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COLONIE: Town seeks tax shift cap

Colonie officials have passed legislation in an attempt to temporarily rein in a continued shift in town and school tax levies to residential taxpayers.

Now they are waiting for state legislators to pass the bill in both the Assembly and Senate to allow municipalities with two-tier tax systems (commercial and residential) to temporarily freeze any shifts not to exceed 1 percent.

What it (the 1 percent cap) is doing for this year is it's not going to burden the residential class, said Chris Semon, Colonie's sole assessor.

The current cap, set by the state's Office of Real Property Services, is at 5 percent.

The two-tier tax system is in place to keep any one of the taxpayer classes from paying an overwhelming share of the levy. The 5 percent mark is meant to keep tax increases and decreases to a minimum when the levy shifts to or from commercial or residential taxpayers.

Semon said that what has occurred lately is, proportionally, residential assessments have increased well past commercial assessments. In 2006, homeowners paid 58 percent of the levies and commercial entities paid 41 percent. The same happened again this year. Semon attributes that split to new construction, mainly in Colonie's north end, and changes in the market values of homes.

Colonie adopted the two-tier system in 1993 to evenly distribute the levy over both commercial and residential classes. At the time, commercial property owners were paying a greater share of all taxes levied for both town and school.

In recent years, the opposite has happened. Residential assessments are proportionally exceeding commercial assessments. The greatest impact has come from school taxes, where between 2 and 4 percent base proportion shifts account for annual tax increases in the hundreds for many homeowners.

Because of that, Colonie's school districts, North and South Colonie, Maplewood and Niskayuna have been in negotiations with town officials to either do away with the two-tier system, or back state Legislature bills promoting the 1 percent cap sponsored by Assemblyman Bob Reilly, D-Colonie, and Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar.

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