Tax exempt status hurts Potsdam economy
Wednesday, June 6, 2012 - 12:04 pm

To the Editor:

After reading Mr. Al Vervaet’s letter to the editor last week, I too feel qualified and compelled to comment on the property tax issues that face our community.

I will ignore the fact that Mr. Vervaet is actually a resident of (Hannawa Falls) Pierrepont, which has a lower tax rate than both the Village and Town of Potsdam. I would like to argue my facts on this subject.

To say that Potsdam would not exist without the colleges is ridiculous. Business and industry founded this town, and if it weren’t for the fact over 70 percent of our village is tax exempt, many more businesses would be created, thrive and stay in the area.

More would avoid closing due to the extraordinary tax rate they pay to stay in business. Perhaps the actual graduates of both these colleges would be lured into staying in the area, buying homes and strengthening our economy. If we had any semblance of a tax base, our quaint Victorian village would rival Alexandria Bay or Lake Placid (and neither of those has a college).

I don’t believe that most people in the area are suggesting that Clarkson or State pay taxes on the property that they use for educational purposes. I also don’t believe any of us “tax supporters” are against culture, art, literature and learning.

Most people actually think (including myself) that SUNY is technically off limits concerning taxation. What we are against is the fact that for years every property at Clarkson has been listed as “educational” and has been exempt.

They own vacant buildings that, if they were owned by a person or business, would be taxed, and if the taxes were not paid, the county would own it.

Congdon Hall is assessed at $2.2 million and is empty; tax bill: nothing. Empty buildings should be sold or taxed, period. 66 and 66 1/2 Main Street are apartments assessed at $184,000, tax bill- nothing.

This list goes on and includes vacant land, storage, and homes that generate profit. Clarkson is adding at least $26 million dollars on the assessment rolls by next year, none of which will go on the tax rolls because they have always had student housing listed as tax exempt.

This will most certainly make Potsdam the most tax-exempt town in the State of New York. Real estate management is not what a private, not-for-profit college should focus on.

I agree that the colleges give us a wealth of entertainment and knowledge, but our “helpful, caring, generous community” should be paid back for the policing of the campus grounds (65 village police calls from January to March at Clarkson alone!), the rescue squad calls and the fire department. Our community should not go broke supporting a very wealthy institution.

If the colleges (mainly Clarkson) hypothetically “pulled up stakes” as suggested by Mr. Vervaet, perhaps they could choose Pierrepont as their new locale.

His community of 2,500 could increase its fire protection coverage, have its newly formed police department work overtime daily just to cover this new campus.

They could hire a paid ambulance driver for the influx of calls. His highway maintenance people could loan them manpower and equipment. Now do all this this without taxing 95 percent of the new Clarkson campus. Welcome to your new college town- enjoy.

Peggy Brusso, Potsdam