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Potsdam taxes highest in area, survey finds

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POTSDAM — The village has the highest tax rate in the north country, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Empire Center for New York State Policy.

Potsdam’s “effective tax rate,” which includes county, village, town and school district property taxes, is $49.55 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the Albany policy center reported. That’s nearly double the median tax rate of $24.78 per $1,000 for all north country municipalities and a statewide median of $28.76.

The city of Ogdensburg had the second highest tax rate in Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, at $49.47 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, the center reported. The village of Norwood came in third at $48.44 of 20 listed area municipalities.

The town of North Elba, Essex County, had the lowest tax rate in the north country at $10.72 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The center released the information within a week of the school districts’ May 15 vote.

“School district taxes typically make up the largest portion of property tax bills, which is why it is so empowering for users to be able to compare specific school districts, by town or other municipality, to one another,” Empire Center Director Tim Hoefer said in a statement.

Potsdam Central School District Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said the policy center released a similar report just before last year’s election.

The current school tax rate is $23.81 per $1,000. That is estimated to rise to $24.28 if voters approve the 2012-13 spending plan Tuesday.

The school district’s tax rate is lower than it was in the 2003-04 school year, Mr. Brady said.

“The district has worked very hard to keep taxes low over the last number of years,” he said. “We’re working in challenging fiscal times. We’re very sensitive to the local taxpayer.”

Potsdam’s large amount of tax-exempt property plays into the higher rate, Mr. Brady said.

“That’s been a key issue for many years,” he said.

Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis disputed some of the center’s findings. The village’s current tax rate is $14.98 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“Potsdam does have relatively high taxes, and we are working hard to reduce them,” he said in an email. “To be fair, however, you need to compare not just tax rate, but also actual tax amount.”

The study concluded tax rates were much lower in resort areas with high property values and assessments. A lower tax rate does not necessarily mean lower total taxes paid, he said.

“Also, it is only reasonable to expect that the cost of living in the village is relatively high compared to many communities in the north country, because many of our communities are small and have few municipal services compared to Potsdam,” he said. “I do not mean to dismiss the relatively high cost of living in the village, but the situation is not nearly as simple as the report presents.”

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