Fair Tax Assessment Speech To City Council

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

[Given at the Speak To City Council portion of the April 24, 2012 Rochester City Council Meeting]

Last year when there was an election going on I heard Tom Richards say over and over again that everything needs to be on the table in order to close the budget deficit.  Well once more we have a budget deficit and now I am sure you are attending budget meetings, and going over number for departments and projects so much that it seems everything is being considered.  Unfortunately it is not.  While you consider whether it is better to risk the lives of Rochestarians by reduced fire protection or to inconvenience people by cutting a library, no one seems to be considering whether we could avoid both by taxing all properties fairly.  Yes, all properties are not taxed fairly.

Let us consider the Merkel Donahue building assessed at $800,000 but was sold for $2.8 million, or Westfalls Heights which is assessed for $4.1 million and built for $11 million.  The Xerox tower is only assessed at $13 million yet its yearly rental revenue would be more than $15 million and Xerox would like to sell this building and then rent the space back.  Frederick Douglas Apartments was built for $7 million and assessed for $44,000 while Buckingham Properties is spending $83 million at Alexander Park but the city only finds all this investment to be worth $7.4 million.  There are many more examples.

According to the city web page the purpose of assessment is to create an accurate reflection of the true value of residential and commercial properties.  Well either this department does a very bad job or this is part of a plan to increase the profits of city investments at the expense of the citizens.

If everything was going great perhaps we could afford to give tax rebates for building construction, but for the past 7 years Rochester has had budget deficits.  During this time taxes have increased, and services have been cut, but Corn Hill Landing continues to be assessed at less than a third of its construction cost. Now I have been told we need to do this to encourage jobs and growth. It is important to grow the economy, but if we taxed fairly then the residents of the city would have more money to spend in our city and that would grow our economy.  Giving tax breaks to these large properties which are usually owned by people who do not live in our city means that big profits will leave our city.  Most of these projects are not job creators anyway, as of the 127 PILOT agreements in the city, 80% are for residential or rental properties and these by nature do not create jobs.

It is time to finally put everything on the table.  It is time to start fairly taxing all properties in our city.  It is time to end the practice of under assessing large properties so that we can pay for our government and grow our city.


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