In 2020 Allegany County NY was the second highest “effective property tax rate” in the nation
By Andrew Harris
This isn’t a new question in Allegany County. Based on our average income, our property tax rate is one of the highest in the United States. At the same time, and using that same measure, Allegany County is one of the poorest counties in the state.
The cause was a combination of two forces, both largely out of Allegany County control: De-industrialization and NYS government mandates. As the county lost oil and gas production, industrial facilities, and many “mom and pop” retail stores; New York State passed laws that required the county to comply and pay much of the tab. Medicaid became the poster child for the problem. As people lost incomes and needed to utilize Medicaid for healthcare, the state kept asking the county to pay a larger portion of the bill. The only way to pay the bill was on the back of property tax owners.
Enter the “Curt Crandall Era,” a multi-decade administration lead by the longest serving Allegany County Chairman in history. Crandall, when entering office found Allegany county in a bad place: Taxes had become back-breaking and the county was overloaded in debt. Crandall made a now-famous statement:
“Allegany County will lend, not borrow.”
When Crandall stepped down from the legislature, the county had accomplished his goal. Allegany county had paid off looming debts, even loaned several million dollars, and tax rates had stabilized. While Medicaid expenses and NY State mandates were still a major concern for the county, the Crandall plan really stopped the bleeding.
With Crandall’s exit, two big changes have further brightened Allegany County’s economic outlook: Sales tax and the American Rescue Plan(ARP.)
In 2019, NYS began collecting sales tax from online purchases and rebating the county portion of the tax based on purchase location. This has changed the trajectory of sales tax revenue for the county in a very dramatic way.
As fate would have it, the COVID 19 pandemic was a major economic benefit to Allegany County. In response to the economic impact on the national economy, the federal government flooded the economy with cash. In a place like Allegany County, our very sparse population resulted in a much lower impact on public health and the local government. The county recieved over ten million dollars in federal and state aid to use for just about any purpose. For Allegany County, that is a massive amount of cash.
Since the end of the “Crandall Era,” Allegany County government has both stayed the course and made some bold decisions. Last year, the Budget Committee, lead by now county Chairman W. Brooke Harris, insisted on moving $500,000 from the county coffers in order to reduce property taxes. While that half million dollar mass rebate didn’t change the fact that Allegany County is overtaxed to the max, it did represent another sea change. Allegany County doesn’t borrow anymore, and they are actively reducing taxes.
The all-Republican county government has made some changes and some effort toward removing the county from the “highest taxed places on Earth” list. In order to continue the progress of the last decade, more changes will be required.
Where should the county look to keep moving the needle on property taxes? In this poll we have the following choices, or you can enter your ideas, just keep it brief.
- NYS must fix the Medicaid system: This solution presupposes that Allegany County must rely on the state to fix the issues creating high property taxes, the Medicaid system being the elephant in the room.
- Consolidate town and county services: Do we need dozens of town supervisors, highway departments, and courts for 45,000 residents? What about district courts, county road crews, and clerical staff?
- Merge public school administrations: School taxes are a major property tax. As we’ve pointed out on this site before: Many counties have one superintendent of schools, Allegany county has 12. Read our previous reporting on that subject.
- Privatize county government services: Allegany county has created three new county agencies in the last year: Tourism, Economic Development, and the Office of the Conflict Defender. This expansion of county government could be a savings/net benefit to the taxpayer, or could create legacy expenses without results.
- Much ado about nothing, the county taxes have been falling: Are we on the right course now? Are recent actions by the county the right approach for creating lower property taxes?
For those who have more developed opinions on Allegany County property taxes, shoot us a message at WellsvilleSun@yahoo.com anytime and we will include your thoughts in the post-poll analysis.
As always, thanks to Hart’s Jewelry on Main Street Wellsville NY for sponsoring our poll questions. Hart’s is Valentine’s Day headquarters for the special gift for your special someone. Visit them online to get a glimpse of this year’s best Valentine’s or better yet, stop in the store to see what treasures are in the case.