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Some seniors’ taxes jump in North Elba

December 8, 2014
By MATTHEW TURNER (mturner@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - A correction in the way income is assessed by the North Elba Assessor's Office has resulted in changes in property value exemptions for hundreds of local seniors, and in some cases they are seeing a major tax increase.

Todd Anthony, North Elba's new sole assessor, said Dec. 4 that his predecessor, Kimball Daby, was not including Social Security benefits as income, and therefore many senior citizens in the Lake Placid Central School District (which includes parts of Wilmington), the town of North Elba (which includes Ray Brook and part of Saranac Lake) and the village of Lake Placid were getting exemptions they were not supposed to.

"The prior assessor was going under his best advice at the time," Anthony said. "There were some exemptions that were, in our view, unduly granted."

Hundreds of seniors were affected by the change, according to Anthony. In some cases, seniors actually saw a break in their taxes, but for others taxes jumped.

The school district is where taxes increased the most for some seniors. In certain cases the school tax bill doubled for a homeowner.

John Hopkinson, vice president of the Lake Placid school board, was one of those seniors who saw a major hike.

"In my case, we've been paying taxes and chugging along, and the first year I applied for (the exemption), my taxes went in half, literally," Hopkinson said. But that changed this tax bill.

"It essentially doubled and brought it back to where it was before."

The reason for the larger hike for some seniors in the Lake Placid school district, and not for the town or village, is because the school district uses a different type of exemption.

State law allows municipalities a few options for giving senior citizens exemptions on their property assessments. Most often, communities use either a gradual sliding scale or a flat income cut off.

In the case of the Lake Placid School District, it gives a 50 percent exemption for those who make $24,000 and below. North Elba and the village use a gradual scale based on income, and exemptions range from 5 to 50 percent.

"It's especially noticeable when the sliding scale is not in place, but with a sliding scale it might not be noticed," Anthony said.

The change in the school tax bill shocked some people, Hopkinson said.

"We got some, 'Oh my God, my taxes went up,'" he said. "And the school system said, 'It wasn't our fault.'"

"Most of the people who saw the significant jumps, I would not be in this category, but I think most people in this category have low incomes, and most of their income comes from retirement funds," Hopkinson said.

On Dec. 5, Anthony delivered exemption information to the school district and explained their options.

"The core of what the school is trying to address is there is an abrupt cut-off for income at $24,000," Anthony said.

Hopkinson said Dec. 4 that school board members are not exactly sure what they are going to do. At their Dec. 2 meeting, President Mary Dietrich said they should consider the gradual exemption option.

Hopkinson said no matter the change, it would have to keep incoming taxes to the school system the same.

"It's got to be net neutral somehow," he said.

The board will do its homework and, after that, make a decision on if a change should be made. For the law to be changed, a public meeting will have to be held as some point.

"This isn't a knee-jerk reaction," Hopkinson said. "We want to do things based on the right reasons."

 
 

 

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