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Albany untaxable properties map

Here's a much larger version for download if you'd like a closer look.

city of Albany untaxable properties map inset

The untaxed city within the city

Albany untaxable properties map

The map above depicts parcels in the city of Albany from which, for various reasons, the city doesn't get property taxes. It's from a slide deck used by Kathy Sheehan during her recent presentation before joint state legislative budget hearing about municipal aid.

That topic has popped up again this week (it never really goes away) because the city's request for an additional $12.5 million from the state -- what the Sheehan admin has tagged as "Capital City Funding" -- was not included in the 30-day budget amendments submitted by the Cuomo admin. That doesn't necessarily mean the money is completely off the table -- the Cuomo admin indicated Friday it could still happen -- but it does cast the fate of the money in doubt. Given given that it represents 7 percent of the current $177 million enacted budget, the city faces making some hard cuts if the money doesn't come through. And on Friday Sheehan urged city residents to call the offices of state legislative leaders to push for the aid.

Sheehan and other city officials have long argued the city deserves more aid from the state for two reasons:

1. The amount of money the city gets from the state's main type of aid to municipalities (AIM) is, on a per capita basis, way lower than what other large cities around the state get. It's not even close. As Sheehan said Friday: "We are not asking for something extra. We are asking for something that gets us a little closer to parity."

2. Large portions of the city -- some 63 percent of the property value -- are tax exempt because of the presence of the state and other institutions that don't have to pay.

Here's a larger view of that map, along with a few quick bits.

Look up

The map is at the top in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.

A few things

Empire State Plaza
One of the features that sticks out in downtown Albany is the Empire State Plaza, of course. It's not taxable, but there's a long running payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) arrangement in the which the state pays the city $15 million a year. (In the city's budget it's the "19A" revenue line.) The state has also been peeling money off the backend of this agreement to pay the city additional money in recent years -- what's known as a "spin-up." The additional $12.5 million the city got from the state last year was in the form of a spin-up.

The Harriman campus
Another state parcel that sticks out is the Harriman State Office Campus uptown. The campus and UAlbany's adjacent campus occupy a huge tract of what would theoretically be very attractive land. The state does not pay the city a PILOT for this land. Last year it tried to sell off a chunk of the Harriman campus with the goal of adding the land back to the city's tax roll -- but there were not takers. (It had a similar lack of success with the parcels -- currently untaxed -- that were gathered on the south side of downtown for the original convention center site.)

AMC/VA/colleges
Another big chunk of the city is taken up the Albany Med/VA hospital/Albany Law/Albany College of Pharmacy/Sage Albany section. A bunch of cities, both here in New York and other states, have been floating ideas in recent years about how to get such large tax-exempt institutions to kick in something. Albany has had some modest success in this regard. An example: Last year Albany Med pledged to pay the city $500k a year as part of a PILOT.

Zzzzzzzzzz
This whole discussion might sound like hopping a train to Snoresville, but the city's budget situation underlies so many issues in the city that affect people who live there and visit there. One of the consequences of having so much tax-exempt land is that property that can be taxed ends up shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden, meaning higher taxes for home owners and businesses. On Friday Sheehan said city's residential property represents roughly 25 percent of the property value in the city, but pays 60 percent of the tax levy. And the city's business properties represent about 13 percent of the property value, but pay 40 percent of the levy.

That makes it harder for the city to compete with other municipalities for residents and development. (And it is a competition -- the city hosts the workplaces for a lot people who don't live there. You can bet it'd love to have chance to compete on a more level playing field for some of those people to become residents.)

Does the city benefit from having the state and these institutions? Sure. They provide jobs and economic activity. But it also incurs costs and complications for hosting them. The question is to what degree the city should be compensated for that.

Earlier

+ Does Albany get a fair share of state aid?

+ Comparing the latest batch of Capital Region property tax rates

Comments

End tax exemptions for religious organizations. True non-profits need PILOT agreements that line up reasonably with their 990 reported revenue, or they get no services from the city (don't have any fires!)

Plain and simple.

I agree. Religious organizations should be paying at least some taxes. The separation of church and state in the constitution, however, will probably make this impossible.

End tax exemptions to anything with the name "progressive" or "community" or "alternate" in it! Not sure why Boston, a "progressive" state capital never seems to be crying that a lot of it's real estate from colleges, to hospitals, to state government, and yes even to religious groups, is off the rolls!

I agree with Ben Dover, you're free to believe what you like but why should your having an imaginary friend mean you don't pay tax?

If you don't want to pay tax, don't call the fire department, pray for rain.

"Not sure why Boston, a "progressive" state capital never seems to be crying that a lot of it's real estate from colleges, to hospitals, to state government, and yes even to religious groups, is off the rolls!" Well, for starters, you could use a valid comparison. Albany and Boston are not comparable cities or capitals.

If the State paid the same per capita amount of aid to Albany as it does to Rochester or Syracuse, there would not be much of a problem. It is way past time that the State transfer the control of the development prime real estate in downtown (original convention site) and the Harriman Campus to the Mayor. The state's restrictions on development chilled any bidding on the both parcels.
The city should do more with shared services (easy example a single County wide approach to arraignments) and to cut back on the Fire/police OT---since it impacts both on current expenditures and future pensions---tough tradition to break. Is it time to consolidate the BIDs to 2? And Kudos to Albany Medical Center for the PILOT--- time for St. Pete's, WAMC and the other exempt landowners to ante up.

I want to make sure I'm reading this map right.

The dark gray spaces are exempt? What does "Other exemptions" mean exactly? It seems to me that the majority of uptown Albany is listed under "Other exemptions".

I bought a house in Albany 6 years ago and throughput those past years I've always wondered what the percentage of properties weren't taxed. I've lived the area all my life and could see the purchases of non taxed properties growing throughout the years.
This is just wrong. Now as a property owner and almost near to retirement I am starting to imagine the fiscal pain that my neighbors are all talking about. Many of them are selling, moving out and/or renting/Airbnb their houses so they can keep up. Our quality of life is quickly diminishing while the the Educational/Medical/Religious facilities are quickly encroaching into our lives overtime. Only the people who have been here for the longest, stuck it out, are the ones who are suffering. The nonprofits are becoming richer and quite frankly it feels just like another name for cooperate greed.
CUOMO PUT UP OR WE WILL BE LEAVING!!!

Why is Albany's AIM so low?

@Sam I'm guessing those are partial exemptions, like STAR, veterans exemptions, senior citizens exemptions, etc. https://www.tax.ny.gov/pit/property/exemption/index.htm

Sam:

I'm hoping the dark grey just means Star Exemption or something similar.

Religious exemption is one thing. (Which I agree, should not be exempt.) But St Peter's is a huge money maker. They should really be putting at least as much into the city as they do their CEO's salary. ($566,508 base in 2014 according to bizjournal.)

As an alternative, Albany should introduce a 2% - 3% income tax on all who work within the city limits, regardless of where they live. Subsequently, reduce the property and school taxes by an equivalent amount for those who pay and live within the city's limits. The only other alternative is to sue the state in court to argue that the AIM program is discriminatory in its application. Force the state into the court room to clean up its act.

Sam, I suspect properties eligible to STAR (primary residence for owner, less than $500k family income - meaning most owned residencies) are also painted as exempt. STAR covers first $30k of property value, and you still pay tax on the rest of assessed value.
Not the best way to present data, but maybe good for shedding a $12M tear from Cuomo..

Dark Grey is a STAR exemption probably, which means that they do pay tax, just a reduced value from if it wasn't owner occupied. So really this map is incredibly deceiving. Apparently no one in the news can portray things accurately these days.

@Rebecca: The most common explanation I've gotten for why the city's AIM rate is so low is that the rate was set decades ago when the financial picture was different and just hasn't been changed.

On a state level, changing it now would be tricky politically because if the state kept the total amount of AIM constant but used a new formula that would benefit Albany, that would mean taking money away from other cities. And if the state just increased Albany's rate, other cities would no doubt also clamor for an increase -- and the whole pie of money would have to grow.

Sam: As other people have helpfully pointed out, those appear to be exemptions such as STAR. I'm trying to get a hold of the exact list.

hawkny - actually a good idea. But I that that some seats in Common Council must also be given out to commuters once that tax is enacted - Taxation Without Representation is known to be a problem for most people

The above comments that religious organizations should have to pay property taxes don't make sense. Religious institutions are not-for-profits, and not-for-profits are tax exempt. They are not getting special treatment because they're religious. Why should religious organizations be treated any differently from other non-profits?

"But I that that some seats in Common Council must also be given out to commuters once that tax is enacted - Taxation Without Representation is known to be a problem for most people"

I mean, no. It should be obvious that commuters shouldn't have any say in our city at all, whether they pay income tax here or not. (Kind of like if I worked in Massachusetts but lived in New York, I couldn't vote in Mass.) But hey, you could always run it by the many cities on this list and see what they do: https://www.thebalance.com/cities-that-levy-income-taxes-3193246

It'd be easy since New York and Yonkers are on this list, and I don't believe they have representatives from Orange County, New Jersey, Long Island or Connecticut on their councils.

On general principle, I'd love to see hawkny's idea enacted. However, this would very likely make the city an even more difficult place to lure businesses to, at a time when it's trying to move in the opposite direction.

"The above comments that religious organizations should have to pay property taxes don't make sense. Religious institutions are not-for-profits, and not-for-profits are tax exempt. They are not getting special treatment because they're religious. Why should religious organizations be treated any differently from other non-profits?"

I copied and pasted because a statement this spot on deserves to be read twice.

JayK - As far as I know, state tax is paid to the residence state, not to employment state. MA doesn't tax those working in the state- hence no representation is mentioned.
NYC has Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility Tax, directly geared towards MTA as a service provided to commuters. I hardly see any comparable service provided to commuters by the city of Albany. Highways and many big streets are state maintained, and CDTA - although nowhere close to MTA in terms of commuter benefit - is already getting little, if any, money from the city.
If anything, fire protection can be sold as city service to commuters - but then we're talking about 0.2% tax at most. And that would also have interesting implications for insurance rates.

As soon as we're talking about tax into general fund, not sponsoring specific activity - I believe representation should be on the table.

Good on Kathy Sheehan for fighting this fight for our city. Taxes in Albany make living in the city kind of illogical for young professionals like myself and my husband. We go into the burbs and the roads are plowed, the schools are good. But we want to live in the city, we want to live where we work, and we want to have a walkable life. If so many of the large city-dwelling orgs participated in the tax base, homeowners wouldn't have to pay such a large burden, or at least would get the benefits of their high taxes with well funded schools and a well-maintained city.

"Why should religious organizations be treated any differently from other non-profits?"

It's actually not as simple as that. While State real property tax exemptions specifically address three kinds of religious exemptions (the main one being mandatory for localities, and classified as "constitutionally protected" – therefore, getting special treatment because they're religious), there is no broad exemption of nonprofit organizations. There are many exemptions for which being nonprofit is a qualifying requirement, but just being nonprofit doesn't mean you are exempt, and the exemption isn't granted on constitutional grounds. For each of the classes of nonprofit, there are local options -- the locality doesn't have to exempt each type from each tax.

The State's full listing of each type of full/partial exemption, along with its enabling legislation, is here:
https://www.tax.ny.gov/research/property/assess/manuals/vol4/pt1/section2/sec2_01.htm

Count me for taxing religious organizations. They own a lot of property that is not used in their "charitable acts". Run a food pantry or shelter? Sure. Housing for clergy? Nope. And anyone of them that peddles in political speech, yank that funding.

Mike, even if my analogy is off *only* because of the state I chose (as I've definitely had to file in multiple states some years), the point stands. We're talking about an INCOME tax in NYC and Yonkers, not the Mobility Tax (which I believe would be comparable to our area's mortgage tax for CDTA). This is not an unusual situation. Many cities in the U.S. already do this, and do not add representation for non-residents. (Though some, such as Detroit, have higher income tax rates for city residents.)

Beth, while I agree with the bit about engaging in political speech through their official capacity, the rest of your comment, specifically "Run a food pantry or shelter? Sure. Housing for clergy? Nope." is addressed by Anon with this bit: "Why should religious organizations be treated any differently from other non-profits?" This is exactly what you're proposing, so I must ask, how does their religious affiliation alone make a difference?

JayK - http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/service/3010/new-york-city-personal-income-tax
NYC-1127 applies only to NYC residents AND those employed by the city, not to those employed by private companies.
If you work for a private company, it is mobility tax only.

Jenna - neither per-student school budget nor school tax for median home in Albany are out of line with nearby localities.
What saves Albany school funding is that only about half of kids born in the city go to school in Albany. Total k-12 enrollment in Albany is below 9000, or 9% of population, compared to 19% for nationwide average.

Unload the city golf course, why should that be tax exempt?

DFH - interestingly enough, golf course brings some money to the city, about $1M total revenue. I don't know how much city spends on it, but I suspect it is net positive - and not sure if it would bring more in tax as a private operation with all PILOTs that would be applied.

Okay, Mike. I appreciate you discarding my entire point for thoroughly irrelevant details. If you'd care to focus even for a moment on the forest instead of a single tree that's missing a branch, please go through the other cities on that list. Commuters don't get representation in cities they don't live in, whether they pay taxes to those cities or not. Nor should they. The minutiae of NYC tax rates is interesting but has virtually nothing to do with the discussion as a whole.

I couldn't agree more with your point about the golf course, but I'd like to extend the net benefit to this idea of a city income tax. Would it be a net negative or a net positive? I would guess it would be a net negative, especially in regard to private businesses, which is what we need here the most.

JayK - I wouldn't be surprised if further exploring the subject would get to some fine print in NYS constitution. But that is a separate issue. Same with captive workforce - universities and state government are not very mobile, so taxation may help for some time. Hospitals may be easier to relocate, though.
On a grand scheme of things, city doesn't really benefit from businesses. Sales tax is collected by county, other taxes by state - and city gets only some "fair" share (and lets not dicuss "fair" right now, it is a different story). Property tax may not really help too much.
IMHO problem of Albany is the size. Right now Albany is about 12% of area population, I believe; and city is much smaller than other namesake cities of upstate areas - Buffalo, Rochester, even Syracuse. Now (feel free to get insulted with following statements, they are factually correct) Albany has skewed demographics - less kids, more college students, lower income, higher crime rate than area average. THose would be more averaged out if big municipality would incorporate 5 local counties under same government like NYC, redistributing funds among larger - and more balanced - population. Even if Albany county was single municipality, things would be easier.
Now idea of "tax and give some say in operation" is a step in that direction. Just float plain unification idea - and you will enjoy plenty of middle fingers shown from Guilderland, Colonie, Delmar...
ANother option for Albany - and again that includes giving up some independence - is offloading police to the state. Just to put things in perspective: if Albany per-capita spending on police was as much as Guilderland, 12.5M would not be needed, and property taxes could be cut by quarter, if not half.
Keeping municipality as-is and just demanding more cash help without structural changes... Probably dead end for the city.

No, we're generally in agreement, Mike. No insult taken, but I do have some qualms with your factually correct but skewed perspective on the demographics, "less kids, more college students, lower income, higher crime rate than area average" because this applies to most cities, especially smaller ones like this. That said, the entire state could use a consolidation of its governments and services - we're notoriously Baltic here.

To address your specifics: "offloading police to the state." No. God no. Every last bit of no. Like any city, we need a local police force to focus on local police issues, especially in regard to community policing that allows them to be more effective.

"Keeping municipality as-is and just demanding more cash help without structural changes... Probably dead end for the city." This is probably true, but I can't get past the fact that we get so much less than other upstate cities. Our economy certainly benefits from being the state capital, but our budget is much more overburdened by the state than these other cities.

"On a grand scheme of things, city doesn't really benefit from businesses." I disagree. Per Sheehan in the Sunday TU: "Residents own about only 25 percent of the city's property and pay about 60 percent of the tax levy, Sheehan said. Businesses own about 13 percent of the city's property and pay about 40 percent of the tax levy, she said. Therefore, businesses pay a higher share of taxes compared to the property they actually own. Factor in the many vacant business locations, and you have real potential to reduce some of the burden on residents simply by filling the space. (Of course there a PILOTs, but that would be a long discussion for another day.)

"Property tax may not really help too much.
IMHO problem of Albany is the size. Right now Albany is about 12% of area population" I'm not really understanding this, since we're looking at the budget on its own and not in comparison to the budgets of other municipalities or the region as a whole. In any case, the last 50 years have left us with a lot of empty space that can be filled with people paying property taxes.

That is the sort of structural change to the city I'd like to see. It's a bit late in the discussion to introduce this (sorry), but if we're going to aim for that sort of structural change, our best option might be a land value tax, so there is incentive to fix up vacant and underutilized properties. As it is, we incentive speculation which keeps properties like the one at New Scotland and Madison vacant for decades, and allows dead spaces like surface parking to thrive even downtown.

JayK - First about "big and small": I am comparing few upstate areas and their namesake cities.
Buffalo: 1125k area, 260k city, 23% in city
Rochester: 1M area, 210k city, 21% in city
Syracuse: 650k area, 144k city, 22% in city
Albany: 850k area, 100k city, 11.7% in city
Apparently larger city averages more different areas, and allows for more balanced demographic - and revenue-spending distribution. For Albany, going to 20% of area population is similar to incorporating Colonie, Albany and Guilderland into single municipality. Then revenue from higher-income areas can help lower-income areas. But - guess what? - that means half of votes in such imaginary municipality would come from Colonie and Guilderland. See where I am coming with taxing commuters?
I am sure such reorganization would help the area in general. Equally it would somewhat hurt Guilderland. And I am dead sure it is impossible to do, among other things - because Guilderland would fight tooth and nail...

As for just filling area with new residents - they would need services, services mean more spending by the city (and school district). It may work either way. Just simple example: family with 2 kids moving in means extra $40k in school spending with maybe $5k in tax revenue. Part would be offset by state, but this is net negative...

Business... As far as I understand, only property tax goes to the city. With pressure on the port to shrink operations and Arnoff building repurposed - I don't see other large footprint business getting into the city. Office with cubicles doesn't pay too much for their footprint.
Biggest business contribution towards city budget is sales tax.
Sales tax collected by county, not city - and gets partially redistributed on per-capita basis. If you spend $100 in Crossgates, $4 of county state tax is collected, $2 gets shared between municipalities, Albany gets something like 60 cents of that. Tax from Colonie center and .. any stores left in Albany - same distribution. BTW, those cents add up to $340 per capita, or 20% of Albany budget. But those sales mean traffic and parking, which you don't like...

Tax the highways!

"See where I am coming with taxing commuters?" No.

"I don't see other large footprint business getting into the city." That's fine. There's a ton of empty and currently wasted space that could be used by businesses, that would then contribute to the tax base. Even if on a percentage, it's more than is being collected now.

"But those sales mean traffic and parking, which you don't like..." Not necessarily - the places I'm thinking are on urban streets, not in suburban-style strip malls. I'm also fine with traffic and parking, but I'm not okay with wasting large areas of the city for private car storage.

Churches notoriously fence in all of their parking lots, then in a small number of cases charge for parking. This space either sits idle most of its life, waiting for the times of mass, and infrequent facility use, while the city struggles to appease the huge commuter presence each day. Additionally a significant portion of employee lots force users to pay either a daily/monthly fee. As an employee in the city, if you pay $50/month to park in a lot, only to get on a shuttle and take a ride to your workplace, doesnt it seem like the overall cost of that leans in favor of your employers overall bottom line. If a parking lot lives untaxed because it belongs to a non profit firm, the cost of maintaining this lot should have a net zero relationship to the non profit's balance sheet. a parking lot that has 100 spots, charges its employees $30/month. Since most of these lots have waiting lists, lets assume that this lot live at full capacity for the entirety of a year. The gross earnings of this lot is $36,000. Obviously we have to consider the cost of maintenance, wear and tear of machinery, cost to preform winter care, labor hours associated with these items, potential repaving, and the insuring of this lot for liability. After all is said and done, we can then estimate that the total cost of this each year is $20k, which in my honest opinion is a bit high. This leaves roughly $16k to line the pockets of a nonprofit institution, all on the backs of its own work force. This is the type of money that should be filtered back into the funds used to care for the infrastructure that leads to these lots. It costs the city money to maintain these roads, signals, light poles and the like. We need to urge nonprofit institutions whose impact is substantial in the region to kick in some skin to the game. It is not fair for the city residents to fund the infrastructure that supports the overall functionality of these firms. Albany Med paying $500k a year is such a kick in the face. They displaced a significant portion of the tax roll, to build a parking garage. The garage is not taxable, and in the current model, will likely never be taxed. The construction of this project did provide jobs, albeit temporary, but what prevents an institution that nets ~$30 million in gross profit each year, after a huge overall spend down, from rewarding the host city with a piece of the pie. We have to repave the roads that the workers drive in on, we have to plow the routes that allow traffic into their facilities, we have to deplete our tax base, allowing them to build condos, awarding construction contracts to business that are not held locally, only to be managed by a rental company whose president sits on the board of directors. Pave paradise, put up a (nontaxable) parking lot.

There should simply never be exemptions on parking lots. None. Even on a single parcel, a tax bill for the portion of land dedicated to parking should be devised.

@Mike couldn't agree more. So much prefer Albany as it was when I first moved here. Depressing dilapidated slums along where park sout h is being built and empty buildings full of birds and cats on corner where renaissance hotel sits and abandoned whare houses on Broadway....yeah these new developments and parking garages are terrible. While we are at it let's level the churches and cathedrals and build a casino and some rehab centers......

"Total k-12 enrollment in Albany is below 9000..."

Not so, total public school enrollment in Albany is over 9,500. That is Albany Public schools only, not counting the seven remaining charter schools, which claim to be public schools even though they aren't. At any rate, all those charter students are paid for by city school district taxpayers, so their total should be counted as funded public school students. I just don't know the number.

"interestingly enough, golf course brings some money to the city, about $1M total revenue. I don't know how much city spends on it, but I suspect it is net positive "

No. The city loses money on the golf course, which means that's one more thing us taxpayers are subsidizing.

I think it's nice to have a city-owned course among other recreational activities, but, this administration is run by idiots if they cannot make money running a really nice golf course.

@Mike: "Just to put things in perspective: if Albany per-capita spending on police was as much as Guilderland, 12.5M would not be needed, and property taxes could be cut by quarter, if not half."

Yes, but Guilderland's police force is too small. I was at Crossgates during the recent shooting and it was Albany Police that swarmed the place because Guilderland had nowhere near enough officers. How much do you suppose Guilderland reimbursed Albany for that? I'm guessing nothing.
So, maybe the same would apply for Albany if we followed Guilderland's example. If we think Troy and Schenectady will come to our rescue for free whenever we need it, we can cut back our police spending.

Perhaps the police force is smaller because.........there is less crime?

The colleges may consider chipping in. Saint Rose acts like a for-profit business with their crazed new president. While laying off faculty Stefanco has hired about a dozen highly paid "VP's" that make over 100k. They have the resources even though Stefanco is crying poverty. Maybe we shouldn't rely on them though as it'll probably close in 10 years.

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