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NY's upstate counties pay highest taxes

ALBANY -- New York's highest-in-the-nation property tax burden is an ongoing story.

But now the focus is shifting upstate in light of data showing that the nation's 15 highest taxed counties all are north of the New York City suburbs or in the western part in the state, when calculated by taxes as a percentage of home values.

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based research group, Orleans County near Rochester ranks first in the nation for property taxes, with a $2,610 annual tax bill on a median-priced $87,200 home. Just behind Orleans are Niagara, Monroe and Allegany counties.

Median is the point at which half of the numbers are higher and half are lower. The Tax Foundation used a three-year average from 2007 to 2009.

Senate Republicans, who earlier this year passed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposed 2 percent annual property-tax cap, seized on the figures to revive their push for the law, which has yet to be heard in the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

"We need a strict property tax cap in place this year to finally put the brakes in property tax increases for the sake of every taxpayer that is considering leaving the state to escape high taxes," Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos said in a prepared statement.

The high rankings came as no surprise to some lawmakers who also work in real estate.

"It's been this way for years," said Assemb. Stephen Hawley (R-Orleans County). "Obviously it's not something you want to be at the top of the list for."

A real-estate agent, Hawley said he's aware that in other states, people frequently relate to property taxes as a percentage of a given home's total price.

But in New York, taxes are typically expressed as a rate per $1,000 of value, which observers say doesn't sound as bad.

"When you look at it that way it's extremely high," Assemb. George Amedore (R-Rotterdam), a home builder, said of the percentages.

For the majority of counties nationally, the taxes are 1.5 percent or even less than 1 percent, except in New York or New Jersey where they are above 2 percent.

Orleans ran at 2.99 percent of value.

Regardless of whether one looks at rates per thousand or percentages, using a home's value as a baseline for the property tax burden is a logical way to compare costs, said Nick Kasprak, an analyst for the Tax Foundation. "All else being equal that is what it should correspond to," he said.

He added that New York, along with New Jersey, has long been at the top of the property-tax heap, but it's notable that 15 of the highest taxed counties are in the Empire State. "It's a little bit surprising," he said.

New York and New Jersey appear almost neck and neck when property taxes are compared to median incomes.

The highest was Passaic County, N.J. Nassau County was fourth place, with a median household income of $104,559 and 8.11 percent going to property taxes.

Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Suffolk counties take sixth through ninth places.

The one offset, said Kasprak are the relatively high incomes in New York.

The state's property-tax burden is driven up by a number of factors including the amount spent on schools and extensive Medicaid options offered.

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