It’s a big, thankless task, but somebody’s got to try to do it — again.
The Mayor’s new Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform met for the first time last week to discuss ways to inject fairness into the system.
Let by two veterans of city government, Marc V. Shaw and Vicki Breen, the first meeting held in Midtown was a get-to-know-you-and-the-system session filled with talk of the myriad of challenges and was not a time to offer up solutions.
Member Carol O’Cleireacain, a former city finance commissioner and budget director whose office oversaw a previous commission in 1993 in which I took part, recognizes things have changed, but not the property tax system. “It’s been over 30 years and the city is a different place today than it was back then,” she said.
Along with the growth in population, there are new land use and urban planning trends, an increased value of air rights as well as more cooperative and condominium ownership.
Co-chair Shaw said the commission’s task as defined by Mayor de Blasio will include evaluating all aspects of the current property tax system in New York City and recommending reforms to make it fairer, simpler and more transparent, while ensuring that there is no reduction in revenue used to fund city services.
Issues involving the four tax classes, methods for determining property values, relief for low-income and senior citizens, methods of calculating the tax rate, city and state legislation and a review of different options in other jurisdictions will be discussed before making recommendations.
Ten public hearings will be scheduled in all the boroughs with some reserved for expert opinions and others for the public to weigh in as to why their property taxes are too high, even though some are dramatically lower than in adjoining Nassau and Westchester counties.
A previous Tax Study Commission issued a report in December 1989 on all taxes. The Citizens Budget Commission provided “When the Freeze Thaws: Options for Property Tax Reform” in November 1991, referring to Mayor Dinkins’ “freeze” on the average property tax rates, which is still in effect today, albeit somewhat higher.
Another report on just the property tax was issued on the last day of the Dinkins administration in December 1993 and tossed by Mayor Giuliani, who later did oversee the implementation of the co-op condo tax abatement.
Former Finance Commissioner Martha Stark wrote “Taking Control of the Property Tax Levy: A Challenge to the New York City Council” in November 1998. Stark was involved in suing the city this year over the disparity in taxes for rental properties, which results in low-income and minorities paying more through their rents than single-family homeowners do.
Saying it’s not the court’s job to legislate property taxes, Rita Dumain of New York City’s law department said at the commission’s meeting that a decision on the city’s motion to dismiss could be coming soon.
Stark had hoped to prompt real property tax reform with the lawsuit, but it is yet to be seen if the city can make changes that won’t make things worse, or simply have the commission issue a report but do nothing and continue to ignore the current disparities.
“Unfortunately, commissions in this city are the place where good ideas go to die,” Stark added.
Commission member James Parrott director of Economic and Fiscal Policies at the New School, who attended via phone from his vacation, quipped, “I am looking forward to undertaking mission impossible.