The most glaring slice of unfairness in Western New York property taxes is the two-tier tax system in places like Buffalo. Businesses pay one tax rate; residents another. The residences-only aspect of STAR will only widen disparities.
Owners of businesses in Buffalo, Tonawanda and other two-tier tax areas already have a great incentive to move to friendlier suburbs. Small-business owners, especially, have every right to be hopping mad about the way two-tier taxing works.
Buffalo, for example, taxes properties in the homestead category -- that is one-, two- and three-family homes -- at a rate of $18.29 for each $1,000 of assessed valuation. Everything else -- the non-homestead category -- is taxed at $39.09 per $1,000. The non-homestead rate is about 64 percent higher.
With those rates, the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 pays a city and school tax bill of $3,658. A business with the same $200,000 assessment is taxed $6,018.
Apply STAR calculations to the $200,000 home and the tax bill is reduced to $3,316, a savings of $342. However, the business gets no relief. The gap, already excessive, grows worse.
Yes, it's true, some businesses do have major property-tax breaks handed out by industrial development agencies. Yes, new businesses can enjoy a tax-abatement program in state law that works on a diminishing scale over 10 years. Yes, new inheritance-tax changes will make small businesses easier to keep in the family.
However, two-tier taxing is still unfair. The unfortunate side of STAR is that it introduces a new complexity and new unfairness in a system that needs no more of either.