Philipstown: No Money to Adjust Home Values

Journal News column prompts tax talk

The Philipstown Town Board last week gingerly took up the question of property-tax fairness following an analysis and story in The Journal News. 

Columnist David McKay Wilson studied 175 home sales in Philipstown between September 2021 and March 2023 and found that 30 properties that sold for $1 million to $5.7 million paid property taxes at 77 percent of their sale prices/market values. Yet 30 properties that sold for $490,000 or less paid 108 percent, based on their sale prices.

It’s been decades since Philipstown has conducted a house-by-house revaluation, a process that The Journal News estimated would cost $500,000.

“I know revaluation is a very complex topic,” said Town Board Member Jason Angell at the formal monthly meeting on Sept. 7. “I know that it’s expensive.” But he said he found the data “obviously disturbing” and said “we’ve all seen” examples. “It warrants learning more about.”

Angell said Supervisor John Van Tassel had advised board members to talk to the town assessor.

Van Tassel cited the expense as the obstacle. “In a perfect world, we would have the money to reval the whole town every year,” he said. “That would certainly be the easiest fix. We don’t have that money. And that’s why prior Town Boards and supervisors have not done it.” 

He also cautioned that a reval might, “in the end, not make a huge difference” in the amount of revenue collected.

The supervisor objected to a line in The Journal News story claiming that he had concluded that Philipstown cannot afford the tax fairness that comes with a revaluation. “I would never say that we cannot afford fair taxation,” he said. 

Garrison resident Nat Prentice proposed that Philipstown appeal for assistance to Putnam County, which has consistently refused to share sales-tax revenue but suggested it could help Philipstown in other ways. “If it’s a money need, and the county won’t share the growth in sales tax,” the town could ask Putnam to “partner with us on this,” he suggested. 

“It’s certainly worth asking,” Van Tassel said.

Tower waiver

At the Sept. 7 meeting, the board exempted a pending Putnam County emergency communications tower from local laws that might otherwise apply to the structure, to be installed at the town Highway Department property on Fishkill Road in Nelsonville.

The board made a similar decision in 2019 to avoid outside review of its renovations at Town Hall, which is located in the Village of Cold Spring. 

In a rationale accompanying its Sept. 7 resolution, the board stated that the tower is being constructed “for the public interest alone” and that village and town stakes in “requiring compliance with their local land-use regulations are not so compelling as to outweigh the public need served by the project.”

Bypassing local regulations is allowed under a 35-year-old state court ruling that a government project crucial to the community good can avoid another jurisdiction’s land-use laws.

Stephen Gaba, the Town Board’s attorney, said Nelsonville also could have granted the exemption but that it seemed logical for Philipstown to do so because it owns the 2,600-square-foot parcel. 

The waiver means Putnam County doesn’t need to get site-plan approval or comply with zoning laws, he said. “They put up the tower as per the plans and there’s an end to it.” But the county still must obtain a building permit for the project, which he described as not “terribly complex. It’s a tower.”

Van Tassel emphasized that the structure is only for emergency communications and will not host equipment from commercial providers. (Telecommunications firms sued Philipstown and Nelsonville in 2018 in disputes over the location of proposed cellphone towers.)

The emergency tower, which will be constructed behind the Highway Department’s salt shed, is expected to be the last in a county-wide chain to assist first responders.

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