Residents will soon be billed differently for sewer usage as the town ends a decades-long charge that is no longer relevant.
According to Town Comptroller Mike Cohen, as new homes were built in the 1970s and ’80s in underdeveloped parts of town, new sewer lines were also needed. Town officials needed to find a way to pay for this new infrastructure, and unlike today, the developers were not made to foot the bill.
The town decided to bond to pay for the projects, since at the time they could not get federal aid. It was decided the cost for the new sewer lines should be passed on to the homeowners.
Residents in those homes were billed with an extra charge on their taxes called a front footage charge. This was determined by measuring the curb of their property by feet and charging residents a certain amount per foot based on the measurement.
Cohen said not everyone is town will have this extra charge, and most that do, don’t realize it. The bonds for the sewer work were paid off in the mid-2000s, but the charge has continued to be included in the tax bills of residents.
The number of parcels that currently are charged front footage taxes is 6,252. The number of parcels that are not charged a front footage tax is 4,575. Those who are not charged front footage simply pay their sewer taxes based on property value, along with a smaller usage fee. Front footage rates also vary among neighborhoods.
“The theory is everyone receives the same services, so they should be charged the same,” said Cohen.
At the Town Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 25, Cohen said he and Supervisor John Clarkson proposed to end the extra charge within five years. The charge has already been slowly decreased over the past several years.
Homes built prior to and after that period in the 1970s and ’80s were not charged front footage.
In recent years, the town has worked to eliminate inequities in taxes. This was done by eliminating multiple water rates in 2011, eliminating multiple rates for sewer districts in 2012 and merging ambulance districts in 2013.
The town has three sewer districts, which were all charged different front footage rates in 2014. Some paid 44 cents per linear foot, some paid $1.48 and some paid $1.74.
Cohen said it is being recommended that all residents who are still charged the front footage tax see their rates drop to an even 34 cents per linear foot next year. Then, the charge will end within two to four years.
To make up the loss of revenue, residents who were previously not charged the front footage tax may see their sewer taxes slightly increase.
Cohen said since many residents saw a decrease in their taxes because of the property reassessment, town officials wanted to make sure the change in sewer taxes did not negatively affect the tax bills of residents. That is why it was decided to phase out the charge, with the largest amount absorbed this year.
The average homeowner should continue to see an overall tax reduction for 2015. This change will only be averaged out through the sewer fund, so properties without sewer will not be impacted.
“The importance here is we are treating everyone the same, which will always have some ups and downs,” said Clarkson. “One year may accrue the benefit more for one geography more than others, but if we are going to a fairer distribution of taxes, that’s the most important thing.”
A list of property owners who are billed the extra charge was provided by the town and included in the agenda packet on the town’s website.
Only one resident spoke at the public hearing for a clarification. The town board passed the measure unanimously.
“Please note that we are not looking at this as ‘winners’ and ‘losers,’” said Cohen in a later interview. “Residents of the community receive one service, and the service received in one part of the community is no different than in any other. We believe that similar services should be charged fairly and evenly.”