This is the text of the statement I read at last Tuesday’s Sweden Town Council Meeting. I have been asked to publish it so people who were not at the meeting can have the opportunity to read it.
I want to comment on a statement about tax exemptions made by Councilwoman Windus-Cook at the last town council meeting.
I was concerned about what Councilwoman Windus-Cook said, so I decided to check the accuracy of her statement by submitting a FOIL about tax exemptions to the Town Clerk, and another FOIL to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.
The information provided by the Town and the State in response to those FOIL requests clearly shows that council-woman Cook’s statement contained a lot of incorrect information about tax exemptions .
According to the town budget, there are 38 different types of tax exemptions, and Councilwoman Windus-Cook focused on six of them – the properties owned by the State and local governments.
Initially, in my FOIL to the town, I had asked for information about all of the 38 different types of tax exemptions, but then I realized that I know exactly what most of the tax exemptions were granted for.
For example, I know what the Combat Veterans tax exemption is for and how it is granted, because I have a Combat Veterans tax exemption.
I earned that tax exemption in the skies over North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos during 1968 and 1969.
So last Monday morning I went to the town hall and talked to Town Clerk Karen Sweeting, to tell her that I didn’t need information on most of the exemptions.
Town Clerk Sweeting was very accommodating. She said that Darla Emmerson, the Assistant to the Assessor, had already made copies of 312 pages of documents related to my FOIL Request, and she asked if I wanted to modify my FOIL request.
Town Clerk Sweeting and I agreed that it would be best if I read and analyzed the data in the 312 pages, before the town staff made any more copies.
I paid the $78 fee for the 312 copies and started to go through them with a fine tooth comb, with the assistance of a math professor at SUNY Brockport.
The information in the documents released by the Sweden Town Assessor’s Office, quickly revealed that statement made by Councilwoman Windus-Cook at the last town council meeting about tax exemptions was wrong.
It also revealed that there is a $16.7 million mistake in the Tax Exemption Summary published on the last page of the 2013 Town of Sweden budget.
It’s actually two mistakes, a $7.73 million mistake in the COMIDA tax exemption numbers and an $8.99 million mistake in the Business Exemption numbers.
There are only 3 properties in Sweden that got the COMIDA exemption in 2013: The Hampton Inn and two Professional Buildings.
The Hampton Inn got a $3,476,000 assessment reduction, the Professional Building on West Avenue got a $440,700 assessment reduction, and the Professional Building on Fourth Section Road got a $2,160,000 assessment reduction.
But according to the Exemption Summary on the last page of the budget, the three COMIDA tax exemptions were worth $13,812,300.
That’s a $7.73 million mistake.
To make matters worse, the Final Assessment Roll 2013 published by Eaffaldano on the town website, contains a third entirely different set of numbers that do not match either the numbers in the budget or the numbers in the documents released by the Sweden Town Assessor’s Office.
But no matter which set of numbers you look at, the tax exemptions approved by Monroe County did not have a significant effect on the town budget.
The other mistake in the town budget involved the code 47610 and 47611 Business Exemptions. According to the town’s 2013 Budget published, 7 properties received Business Exemptions worth $6,417,530.
But according to information in the documents released by the Sweden Town Assessor’s Office, those 7 properties received Business Exemptions worth $15,411,130.
That is an $8,993,600 discrepancy that none of the members of the Town Council caught.
Once again, the numbers in the Final Assessment Roll 2013 contain a third entirely different set of numbers that do not match either the numbers in the budget or the numbers in the 312 pages of documents released by the tax assessor.
To make matters even worse, the Town Clerk could not tell me who approves the code 47610 and 47611 Business Exemptions. She told me that I had to talk to Monroe County.
However, when I did some research, I found that the Business Exemptions are not granted by the county at all, they are granted by the Sweden Town Assessor, Tony Eaffaldano.
I contacted the New York State, Department of Taxation & Finance, and discussed the matter with Jerome McCall, a Real Property Analyst in the Office of Tax Policy Analysis.
Mr. McCall told me that these exemptions are granted under section 485-B of the New York State Real Property Law and that “All exemptions in Monroe County are administered by local assessors.””
That means that in 2013 Sweden Town Assessor Eaffaldano granted almost five times as much in tax exemptions than the county did.
And for some odd reasons, the tax exemptions were granted to a fast food joint, a snack bar, two gas stations, a lumber yard, and two major retailers; all of which are located in the “traffic jam zone” on Route 31 and Route 19.
So why is Councilwoman Windus-Cook complaining about how there are already too many tax exemptions?
Why isn’t Councilwoman Windus-Cook complaining that these are not the kinds of businesses we should be granting tax exemptions to.
My research indicates that Assessor Eaffaldano probably just approved every 485-B application that crossed his desk.
According to Jerome McCall at the Department of Taxation & Finance, the Town of Sweden has failed to take advantage of a section of the 485-B law that allows the town to limit the tax exemption to specific types of businesses (that are more likely to increase employment and generate economic growth).
That same section of the law allows the town to limit 485-B to specific location in the town, in order to reduce traffic congestion and promote revitalization and urban development.
But the Town of Sweden has also failed to take advantage of that provision, so the Assessor’s hands are tied and he has to approve every valid application, even if it leads to gridlock on Route 31.
Councilwoman Windus-Cook is a realtor, so she should know about the 485B law. The question is this.
Why is she blaming the county, when she should be blaming the town assessor and the members of the town council?
They are the ones who should be asking, “Why are we giving millions of dollar worth of tax exemptions to a fast food joint, a snack bar, two gas stations, and a lumber yard; and then dragging our feet on a tax exemption for a building on the National Register of Historic Places?