With everybody’s favorite new buzzwords being “consolidation” and “sharing services”, it seems like all the politicians want in on the game, apparently regardless of whether the consolidation of the services in question actually results in greater efficiency and thus less cost to the taxpayers. After all, if you consolidate services only to end up performing the same level of service for the same cost or a higher cost to taxpayers, that would just be...dumb, right?
For some inexplicable reason Schoharie County supervisors are considering switching to a county-wide property assessment system, which would relieve towns of the responsibility. The county Board of Supervisors just recently received a consultant’s report on consolidating property tax assessments. Despite the fact that the report’s three alternatives to the current town-based system would be more expensive, county supervisors seem largely in favor of centralizing the property tax assessment system.
The current system costs county taxpayers around $820,000 a year. Meanwhile, switching to any of the three proposed variations of the centralized assessment system would cost more than a million dollars. Now, if we’re going to switch to a more expensive system, there has to be some compelling reason. Like say, if having the county do assessments, we might actually save money in the long run by having more equitable assessments.
However, what reason is their for believing that a group of assessors at the county level is going to somehow better assess properties than the current town assessors? Could this be wishful thinking? In fact, switching to a county-wide assessment system could increase inequity. Larger towns who pay more taxes would end up subsidizing the smaller towns that pay less taxes. It would be a boon to smaller towns who would be relieved of a large expense, and a drag on larger towns who are carrying more of the county’s tax burden on account of their larger population.
I’m far from an expert on consolidating services, but I am pretty sure that the objective is to increase efficiency and save money. This proposal to consolidate property assessment at the county level would do just the opposite; it would drive up the cost of assessing property in Schoharie County.
It’s funny, because it’s not assessments that cause taxes to rise. In fact, it is just this kind of ineptitude and poor judgment that results in wasteful spending and unnecessary bureaucracy that actually results in higher taxes. For the board of supervisors, the additional costs would be a small price to pay for getting rid of the headache that property assessments have caused in certain towns. Pawning the whole assessment mess off on the county is probably the best hope people like John Barlow have of resolving the recurrent controversy.
However, in the end, obsessing over either property assessments or consolidating services is a distraction. If you want to increase efficiency and lower taxes (or free up money to be spent on more important things) get involved with your local school, town and county budgeting processes and fight the wasteful spending that is going on. Or, better yet, encourage responsible growth that builds the tax base but protects the quality of life.