Potsdam woman says tax exempt properties are hurting St. Lawrence County
Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 7:04 am

To the Editor:

I find it astounding that our county is telling its citizens that our property tax rate will increase over 13 percent this year.

The only talking points the county brings up for discussion are cutting services (and jobs) and raising the sales tax. While these issues are important, there are other serious yet reversible problems facing our area.

St. Lawrence County is fast becoming the Cayman Islands of property tax exemptions. Ogdensburg has the distinction of being the most tax exempt city in the entire State of New York. There are 875 exempt organizations in St. Lawrence County. To put this into context, there are only 727 in Oswego County.

Many of these organizations are only exempt on sales tax and do not own property, but many others own property in excess of their primary not for profit function.

Once a property is given the classification of tax exempt (section 8 of the tax rolls), it is rarely reevaluated, often for decades and sometimes while changing ownership.

As a resident of Potsdam, I can name dozens of parcels that should legally be taxed for any number of reasons. Two properties that should be on the tax rolls are the Medical Campus on Lawrence Avenue and the former Warner Cancer treatment center. Because the Canton Potsdam Hospital is not- for- profit and retains ownership, these were automatically given exemptions as well. Many communities are re-visiting this century- old tradition, due to the fact rental offices have set hours, do not provide urgent care, and are not providing charity care; all of the stipulations that by law make it exempt. Now that a 20 million dollar expansion of private offices has been approved, this situation must be researched.

Damon Hall, Congdon Hall, the old Liberal Arts Building and Sigma Pi are 4 unused, dilapidated buildings owned by Clarkson. Clarkson reports these as “educational” buildings to the county real property tax office, and are therefore, given the exemption.

Building Blocks Daycare owns several vacant acres and, by law, should be utilizing them for educational purposes, yet has not been required to pay taxes on this parcel.

Many other properties should have a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) placed upon them. One such property is “Clarkson’s” Cheel Arena. This property is actually owned by the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency. Since the IDA is a public benefit corporation (not a department of the county like many people would believe) it is even more exempt from taxation than Clarkson is. In the last 22 years the IDA has owned Cheel, millions of dollars have been taken in through ticket sales, food and beverage outlets and the various public trade shows, yet no taxes are paid from that building. After a brief conversation with the IDA’s C.E.O. Patrick Kelly, he said that the local taxing authority did have the right to enter into discussions about a PILOT on that particular property. I urge all elected officials to make a point that this happens.

Now we are told there are serious talks of building a hotel, conference center and housing on a water front property owned by SUNY Potsdam (obviously tax exempt). While the issue of job creation has been discussed in both articles, taxation has not. This should not be considered for a PILOT or exemption. Potsdam State should be required to sell the land outright to the business owner. This project is strictly for profit and our representatives need to pay attention.

Potsdam is a microcosm of the entire County. Every legislator should obtain a copy of their own districts town or village budget. They are required to have a breakdown of taxable and exempt properties. They should study these exempt properties as well as real property and not- for- profit tax law. Millions of dollars could be added to our town and county tax bases, legally and fairly, and all our taxes will go down.

Peggy Brusso, Potsdam