Statement by Jeffrey Berkman before the New York State Assembly
Hearing of
September 27, 2007 .


  Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this Assembly Hearing on Real Property Taxation this morning. It is essential for our state government to hear the voices of the people and its local representatives. It is no secret that there is a huge amount of frustration by the people over New York State's over reliance on property tax as a means to sustain and support government. It is regressive taxation. It is inundated with inconsistencies which make up of many of the public question, about how fair this system actually is.

  I am born and raised in Middletown where I live with my family. I own and manage property. Currently, I serve as an Orange County Legislator representing the 20 th District, all of which is in The City of Middletown. I am pleased to testify, with my knowledgeable friend and colleague, Mr. Pahucki. Please take note that Mr. Michael Paduch could not attend this morning, but consistently stands shoulder to shoulder with those of us who are committed to property tax equity and reform for our state. I appreciate that Assemblyperson's Aileen Gunther and Sandy Galef used their influence in the Assembly to hold this hearing in the heart of our community, the Paramount Theatre.

   Middletown is not a wealthy community, far from it. We are a proud small city that faces an overly burdensome property tax situation. This is primarily not a result of excessive spending on frivolous expenditures. Unfortunately, this problem is systematic. Many small urban centers such as Middletown (or Monticello ) are obligated to spend disproportionately high amounts of taxes for basic security for our schools, homes, streets, and our downtown centers.

  Compounding this problem is New York State 's policies. For example, School Resource Officers are often financed from State Police budgets which shun equitable treatment for cities. This forces communities like Middletown to scramble for grants, member items, and the like, to provide needed services that less needy school districts receive. It is worth noting that my community is perhaps the most deserving based on the merits. Our state's rural areas can claim unfair treatment as well. A quote, “cows can't read” came to mind during a recent library vote on property taxation.

  Similarly, Orange County Government's inconsistencies and inequalities are also systematic. For example, there are no county parks or county roads in any of Orange County 's three cities, Newburgh , Middletown , or Port Jervis. This translates into an unfair system where revenues are spent for services disproportionately used and accessed by NON urban, often wealthier constituents.

  Assembly Bill 9239 which would create a “Blue Ribbon Commission”, is needed in order to provide a road map for alternative solutions. It is vitally important that the best of its recommendations are implemented. This hearing is taking place in a theatre. It is my hope that the Commission will serve efforts dedicated to property tax reform and not more political theatre. Albany is often viewed as a dead end destination for policy reform. Please do not have our capitol become the “last of the overly funded study…and under funded solution”.

  Assembly Bill 1574 is a step in the direction of reform. It is my view that new condominium and cooperative property taxation must be based on fair market value. This is the fairest standard for all taxpayers. New condominium construction which allows for stand alone structures (homes) that receive favorable tax advantages not received by single family homes, is an abuse and does not deserve our support. In fact, if a condominium, house, or other asset has a fair market value of $250,000, it makes sense that the tax burdens for each would be equitable. Policies that provide abatements, discounts, or set asides for various reasons, (some legitimate) stray away from fairness.

  Fair market value by definition has already taken variables into consideration. These variables may include common areas, private roads, and garbage collection.

  Unfortunately, New York State and other taxing entities such as our county actually consider adding more tax exemptions to a truckload of pre-existing exemptions. Let's make sure this load does not break the axils.

  One last point. The Palisades Interstate Park System provides that all of Rockland County 's Parks and some of Orange County 's Parks within the Palisades System are taxable to New York State . Highland Lake State Park , located in Wallkill, is an exception. This is an unfair anomaly and is burdensome to local governments such as school districts, library districts, and town government. Please fix this.

  Also, please do not take Empire State College away from downtown Middletown .


Thank you again for including Middletown on your list of concerns... as the Assembly works toward and contemplates needed REFORM-the real property tax system for our state.