Published in the Staten Island Advance
By Sydney Kashiwagi
Weeks after Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to establish a commission to come up with a property tax reform plan, Staten Island lawmakers rolled out several new proposals in a bid to make the current system more fair.
The measures include reinstating the property tax rebate; freezing property tax bills for eligible senior citizen; passing legislation that would reset the state-mandated assessment cap when a property is sold, and putting together a commission to study and propose reforms to the city’s property tax system.
Minority Leader Steven Matteo (R-Mid-Island), Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore) and Borough President James Oddo on Tuesday rolled the proposals at a press conference.
Their announcement came after de Blasio said last month said that both reforms to the property tax system and the creation of a property tax commission that would look at inequities in the system — which he vowed to undertake if elected — were coming “soon.”
However, the mayor provided few details on what to expect and when the announcement was coming.
Here’s a look at reforms proposed by the Island officials:
PROPERTY TAX COMMISSION
The commission would look at “inequities and irregularities” in the way property values are assessed and taxes are levied and also provide a analysis of the property tax system and recommend potential changes.
They said the commission would need at least a year to work and make final recommendations. After that process, public hearings would be held and any proposed changes to the property tax system the city wanted to adopt would need to be drafted into legislation; approved by both the City Council and the State Legislature and their respective committees; then signed into law by the mayor and the governor before they could take effect.
PROPERTY TAX REBATE
Under the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, city homeowners received a $400 property tax rebate check from 2004 to 2009. The Island lawmakers recommended bringing a similar program back.
They said the rebate would require the State Legislature to pass enabling legislation, which is currently being sponsored by State Sen. Andrew Lanza of Staten Island and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto of the Bronx. The rebate would then need to be agreed upon during the city’s fiscal 2019 budget negotiations, voted on by the City Council and then signed into law by the mayor.
PROPERTY TAX “FREEZE” FOR SENIOR CITIZENS
The lawmakers also proposed the city study and implement a property tax “freeze” for those Class 1 homeowners who are senior citizens that meet specific criteria including age, income, residency in New York City and time period of home ownership.
As part of the program, eligible homeowners would have their property taxes frozen at a base year level. They said that until title passes to a new owner or an heir, either all subsequent tax bills would contain a deduction equal to the difference between what is owed for the current tax year and the base year.
Current year property taxes would have to be paid in full, but the homeowner would then apply for and receive a reimbursement equal to the difference between what is owed for the current tax year and the base year.
RESET ASSESSMENT CAP WHEN PROPERTY SOLD
Under their proposal, the current property tax assessment cap would reset when the property sold so that the assessment of a newly-purchased home would be calculated based on the current market value from the new sale price.
In order to accomplish the resetting, the lawmakers said it would require amending New York State Real Property Tax Law (RPTL) 1805, which they said they are requesting through a resolution in the City Council. In addition to providing property tax equity for Class 1 properties in the city, they said the change is could potentially provide more than $100 million in new city revenue without raising taxes, and without harming the property tax protections of families who remain in their homes.
Under the city’s current property tax system, the assessed value of properties with one-, two- and three-family homes — known as class one — can’t go up more than 6 percent every year or 20 percent over five years.
Therefore, homeowners in less popular neighborhoods where home values slowly increase will generally have higher property taxes than those with homes in more desirable areas like where de Blasio lives in Brooklyn.
CONDEMNING THE CURRENT SYSTEM
“The strange thing about New York City is that the mayor and many of our progressive friends like to tout our progressive property tax system or our progressive tax system overall where people get taxed at a higher rate depending on how much income they have, and traditionally the higher the income the higher the rate,” Borelli said. “When you look at property taxes you’re actually looking at the exact opposite, where New York City actually taxes its richest citizens, its richest property owners at lower effective property rates, than middle class people.”
Island lawmakers have been fighting current property tax system for years. Two years ago, Borelli and Matteo threatened to sue the city after an independent review confirmed that Staten Island homeowners face higher tax burdens relative to actual property values compared to the other boroughs.
Matteo vowed to fight for their reform proposals, especially the property tax rebate, over the next four months during the upcoming budget negotiations and make them a priority. He also said he had a great relationship with the new City Council speaker and already spoken to him about the reforms.
“We have long term solutions but for me in this budget, as a member of the finance committee as a member of the budget negotiation team and leadership, I am going to work with the speaker and my colleagues and the mayor to try and institute a property tax rebate,” Matteo said. “Obviously it’s going to cost some money and our point here is that it’s time for the City Council, it’s time for the administration to give back to those who continue to pay into the city’s coffers.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out a $88.67 billion preliminary budget proposal for fiscal 2019 Thursday.
Earlier this month, de Blasio announced a $88.67 billion preliminary budget proposal for fiscal 2019, a spending plan up about $4 billion more than what was proposed in last year’s preliminary budget.
In that budget, the amount of money the city plans to collect in property taxes over the course of the remainder of the mayor’s time in office is slated to go from $26 billion to $30.7 billion — an 18 percent increase.