February 2023 TCCOG Report

Monthly Report

Tompkins County Council of Governments

for February 8, 2023

by Councilperson Robert Lynch

Enfield TCCOG Representative

The Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) met on January 26, 2023 under its new bimonthly schedule.  Apart from its own reorganization, TCCOG took no formal actions that date.  However, the group did receive a detailed report from County Director of Assessment Jay Franklin regarding the numerous property tax exemptions made available by New York State and not always accessed by municipalities despite their availability.

Tompkins County Associate Planner Darby Kiley updated TCCOG on progress toward a consultant’s study regarding Tompkins County’s potential role in consolidating code enforcement responsibilities.  And the TCCOG membership, at my motion, elevated Trumansburg Mayor and TCCOG Representative Rordan Hart to become Vice Chair, putting Hart in TCCOG’s line of leadership.

Assessment:  Given his appearance at TCCOG, I sought to follow-up on my earlier inquiry to Jay Franklin concerning the prospect of the Town of Enfield convening its own Local Advisory Board of Assessment Review.  It comes as the Tompkins County Legislature on January 18th suspended indefinitely its convening such town-based advisory boards at the County’s initiative.  Jay Franklin had told me following a January committee meeting that he’d confer with the County Attorney about the legality of Enfield’s assembling such a home-grown panel.  At TCCOG, January 26, Franklin effectively nixed the idea.  In response to my renewed question, Franklin stated this concerning a town-initiated Board:

“I don’t think it would be appropriate, because we wouldn’t be treating all of our residents the same.  And that’s one of our tenets of what my office does is everybody is treated the same.  So, if one Town were to offer some sort of other pseudo-assessment review process, I don’t think that really would be appropriate.  It really would give that property owner a false sense of something may happen if they went there and provided their information to them.”

Given that the Department of Assessment would likely decline to send professional staff to advise any Local Board Enfield might convene, it seems unlikely an Enfield-assembled Local Board would serve any worthwhile purpose.

Jay Franklin presented to TCCOG a three-page summary of available Real Property Tax Exemptions, each made available by state law, many of which require a Town to exercise its discretion to authorize.  Franklin’s attached spreadsheet made evident that many towns, including Enfield, have simply never decided whether or not to permit many exemptions.  One of the exemptions is the newly-offered Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker Exception, an exemption being considered by our Town Board tonight.  But many other exemptions stand available, if accessed and Board-authorized; exemptions for such things as capital improvements, historic preservation, and “Green Buildings.”

Franklin said he often gets the question about exemptions, “Why haven’t more places opted into them?”  Franklin’s answer, “Honestly, I don’t know.”  Often, he surmises, municipal leaders wait for Tompkins County to act first.  Franklin said history has taught him to wait until Tompkins County avails itself of an exemption before requesting a local municipality to consider adopting it as well.  However, with the Volunteer Firefighter Exemption, Franklin moved ahead of Tompkins County for sake of time.

Regarding the Volunteer Firefighters’ Exemption, Franklin noted that some volunteers might be wise not to claim it only because it would preclude their also claiming a $200 state income tax credit, separately available.  You can’t claim both.  Franklin said taxpayers can contact his office to help decide which of these two exemptions would save him or her the most money.

Franklin made the point that when both Tompkins County and a town opt into the Firefighters Exemption, it becomes more attractive for the property owner to take that property exemption instead of the income tax credit.  The exemptions essentially leverage each other.

“The big one would be school districts,” Franklin stressed, pointing out that if schools opted into the exemption as well, the “sweet spot” of a home’s assessed value making the property exemption outweigh the income tax credit would drop considerably.  Should school districts also opt in along with the county and the towns, “then you’re really talking savings here,” the director said.

Enfield currently “opts out” of the “Solar/Wind/Farm Waste Energy Exemption,” found under Section 487 of the Real Property Tax Law.  Because Enfield chose years ago to “opt out” of this exemption, any Payment in Lieu of Tax (PILOT) Agreement for solar or wind farms must be negotiated by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, not the Town.  Enfield’s Town Board has discussed whether it remains best to be an “Opt Out” municipality.  Franklin’s written narrative described the exemption this way:  “There are a lot of bad exemption statutes, but this one takes the lead.  You are in the exemption until you opt out.”  Enfield, of course, has opted out.

Caroline Supervisor Mark Witmer said that on advice of counsel, his town may examine all the available tax exemptions at one time and write a local law that consolidates into one document all of the various exemptions his town chooses to permit its residents to access.

Building Code Enforcement:  Darby Kiley of County Planning advised TCCOG that Tompkins County has selected the LaBerge Group to conduct a study of potential consolidation of building code enforcement functions, an opportunity that may hold interest for some municipalities more than for others.  Kiley’s asked all municipalities to complete and submit a survey addressing code enforcement challenges.  Kiley said her plans call for convening in-person roundtable sessions in about a month to address, in her words, “workflows, needs, barriers, and opportunities for collaboration.”

“We really want these studies to meet your needs as a municipality, Kiley told TCCOG.  What are your challenges in code enforcement, and what do you see as opportunities,” she asked.  “We do not have a predetermined outcome for this,” she stressed.  Based on member comments last week from the Enfield Planning Board, some in Enfield governance may prefer County Government to remain as distant as possible from involvement in local code enforcement.

TCCOG’s next meeting is March 23.

Respectfully submitted,

Robert Lynch, Councilperson  

Enfield TCCOG Representative