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Orleans again tops tax chart

By Tom Rivers trivers@batavianews.com |

A national study examining property taxes puts Orleans County at the top of the list. Other local counties aren’t far behind when measuring the amount of property taxes paid as a percentage of median home value.

In Orleans, the median homeowner paid $2,578 annually in property taxes from 2005 to 2009, for houses with a median value of $84,600. That tax bill is 3.05 percent of the home value, the highest among 3,000 counties in the United States, according to the Tax Foundation. Orleans also led the list in the Foundation’s ranking two years ago.

Genesee County ranked 8th this time while Wyoming was 14th. The list is dominated by upstate New York counties, which claim 22 of the top 25 spots.

“The problem really comes from the state,” said David Callard, chairman of the Orleans County Legislature. “They have downstreamed their deficits to the county level.”

Mary Pat Hancock, chairwoman of the Genesee County Legislature, agreed the state is driving the tax burden in the local counties.

“The reason property taxes are so high is Albany spends the money and we pay the bill,” Hancock said. “It’s a sad fact. If we had mandate relief, that would reduce the property taxes.”

The study reflects the overall tax bill, and not just county taxes. Locally, school taxes are the highest, but county, village and town taxes also add up.

The Orleans Legislature has cut county positions in recent years, privatized home health care and is talking about selling its nursing home, which county officials fear could cause $2 million-plus annual deficits.

Callard and county leaders across the state have pleaded with Albany to take over the Medicaid program and reduce other mandated programs that inflate county budgets. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing a 2 percent property tax cap, but local municipalities say it can only achieved with the state taking on more costs of its programs. Otherwise, counties may be forced to cut back on road repair, road patrols and sell their nursing homes, said Chuck Nesbitt, the Orleans chief administrative officer.

He said Orleans is one of the most frugal counties in the state. Its spending ranked as the 51st lowest of 57 counties, and its taxes per capita ranked 53rd. The county’s high ranking on the Tax Foundation report reflects the low-cost housing in Orleans, rather than high taxes, county officials have said.

Some pockets of the community are rebelling at the taxes. The Medina school budget was rejected last week, and voters in Holley shot down a proposition to purchase new buses. In Genesee County, Batavia City School District voters rejected the budget.

Mark Irwin, a Medina village trustee, said he heard from residents who didn’t like the new village budget, which pushed up taxes by 2.6 percent.

Medina is teaming with Shelby and Ridgeway to seriously explore merging and consolidating the three governments, trying to reduce the taxes in that community.

Callard said the tax report, and its national coverage, doesn’t reflect well on the community.

“It looks bad and it’s discouraging,”  he said. “We’re doing what we can at the grass-roots level but ultimately we need the state to assume responsibility for its programs. Then our tax rates would be much lower.”