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Reassessment is hardly a one-way street Taxes are underside of Collins' value pitch

Erie County Executive Chris Collins last week described how most property owners react -- or should react -- when their homes are reassessed upward.

"Most people are very happy," he said, because their home has grown in value.

But he seemed to gloss over another factor -- the taxes.

"If you were selling, I would say he's right," Edward G. Schneider III of Evans said about Collins' belief that people happily embrace those higher values. "But if you are going to be there for a while, and paying taxes, you want your appraisal as low as possible. I can cite you examples where a lot of people are losing their homes because of reassessments."

Schneider is among the Evans property owners who rose up recently to protest their escalating assessments, which produce bigger tax bills over time. He started a Web site to help others ratchet them down:

Schneider turns a cynical ear to assertions by public officials that they are lowering the tax rate -- the rate charged for every $1,000 of assessed value -- when they are jacking up the other factor in the equation, property values.

"Don't fall for this stuff about the rate going up and down. You have to look at total spending," he said, to judge your government's performance.

When Collins on Friday described how people should react to higher property values, he was describing how he would like people to react to the county tax increase he proposes for 2009.

Collins' budget would lift the total amount of property taxes needed for county purposes in 2009 by 8 percent, or nearly $16 million. It would be the decade's second-largest increase.

But because of rising property values and new buildings going onto the rolls, the average tax-rate increase is more benign, 3.6 percent, according to Collins.

He said the owner of a $100,000 home that has not been reassessed would pay just $18 a year more in taxes. Don't put too much faith in that number, however, because each town assesses its properties differently, and county tax rates vary among towns and cities.

Erie County's average tax rate of $5.12 would still be low compared with those in most other upstate counties. In fact, at the start of the decade, Erie had a higher tax rate.

Collins says he intends to keep the rate at $5.12 through 2012.

"I expect that the public will realize that this is a small price to pay to have a balanced budget in these economic times," he said Friday.

The value of Paul Noreck's home on Linden Avenue in Buffalo has risen from $82,000 in 2000 to $110,000 today.

In theory.

"It's more valuable on paper," Noreck said Monday. "They reassess you so that they can get more taxes. But when you are going to get that price for it is another question."

"At this point, given the financial climate, 3.5 percent is not all that much relatively speaking," he said of Collins' proposed tax-rate increase. "But he better get rid of a lot of the perks and patronage jobs . . . I voted for the man, but you had better clean up your own house before you come after us."

Collins says that's exactly what he is doing. He wants to cut nearly 200 jobs, though not all are occupied. Effective July 1, he would return the care of Buffalo's parks and playgrounds to City Hall and terminate the 2004 maintenance contract that costs county government money.

He asks cultural agencies to accept 5 percent less in county aid and the Convention and Visitors Bureau to make do with no increase. He would not continue the extra $1.6 million the Legislature gave the library system last year to supplement the $22.2 million it takes from the tax levy.

He attempts to save money on several fronts through his Six Sigma efficiency program. He would eliminate the county's contribution to some localized efforts, such as $24,000 to control feral cats in Buffalo and $40,000 for the Hamburg Natural History Society's Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center.

Collins on Friday mistakenly referred to the Natural History Society as the Hamburg Historical Society and asked why it was collecting county aid when other historical societies do not. He also said he will veto any pork-barrel spending that lawmakers add for pet projects.

The county executive said the control board and the Legislature should accept his budget proposal, his first since taking office in January. But Democrats, who have been increasingly critical of Collins, control the Legislature and the budget review, and they expect to examine his plan over several weeks -- once it is printed.

"No one wants to raise taxes," said Legislator Kathy Konst, D-Lancaster, chairwoman of the Finance, Management and Budget Committee, which conducts budget-review hearings. "We need to look at the cuts he's made and see if there are other opportunities for savings. Maybe his priorities aren't our priorities. Maybe he's putting money into programs we can hold off on for a bit."

Debbie Waddell, of Evans, has a house that's valued at $115,000, which is not too far from the $100,000 home upon which Collins based his average tax impact: an increase of $18 a year.

But last year, Waddell's home was valued at $74,900. Now it's supposedly worth $40,000 more.

So using the tax rates that Collins quoted, Waddell's county bill would go up by $218 in 2009.

"We are going to get whammed," she said.


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