QUEENSBURY -- A countywide push to expand the pool of those eligible for senior property tax exemptions will soon test the political capital of Warren County's top elected official.
Dan Stec, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and Queensbury supervisor, is calling on the county board and all of Warren County's school districts and towns to boost income thresholds for senior tax exemptions to the state's maximum allowable levels.
The move would cut substantially into tax bases by decreasing the number of area taxpayers in many towns and school districts.
Losses incurred by local municipalities because of New York's Aged Exemption, unlike the state's STAR (school tax relief) exemption, is paid for by the local tax base.
The proposal would provide more tax relief for the region's retired population.
Stec said he expects widespread support for the plan when he officially introduces the county's version of the proposed shift to the Board of Supervisors sometime this spring.
"I can assure you that Queensbury and Warren County will be increasing these limits," Stec said. "If the county went first, that would give everyone a certain standard."
Society should support seniors and veterans, Stec said, adding that he believes the initiative will garner wide public support.
The state has repeatedly boosted its sliding-scale income limits for tax exemptions for residents 65 and older. Warren County hasn't adjusted the local limits since 2005.
Each individual town and school district would have to unilaterally adopt the state's revised thresholds.
New York now allows local governments, by local law, to reduce by half a senior's assessed property value if the senior annually earns $29,000 or less.
State regulations permit local governments to grant up to 49 percent in local tax exemptions to seniors making between $29,000 and $37,400. The sliding scale typically grants exemptions between 5 percent and 20 percent within that income bracket.
Warren County grants the 50 percent exemption to seniors earning $18,000 or less, and 20 percent exemptions are given to those making up to $23,700-a-year.
Stec is pushing for all local taxing districts to adopt the allowed maximum thresholds for 2013.
But that would mean many of Warren County's schools and towns would see a substantial erosion of their local tax base, and the local taxpayer would be left with the higher bill.
"I don't even know why we're suggesting it at this time," said Dave Rosebrook, Lake George's and Bolton's longtime assessor.
The county's many taxing districts have various income thresholds.
The current county exemption levels are on par with most of Warren County's taxing entities.
Johnsburg, Warrensburg and Thurman, the towns and local school districts, occupy the low end of the maximum threshold spectrum, granting 50 percent exemptions to only those making $12,000-a-year or less.
Bolton and its school district occupy the upper local spectrum. Its maximum income limit for the 50 percent exemption is currently $21,500.
"Any broadening of the table would move the burden from one group to another," said Doug Huntley, superintendent of the Queensbury Union Free School District.
Some 59 of Lake George's seniors now receive the Aged Exemption at the town's $18,500 maximum threshold, Rosebrook said. That accounts for more than $2 million in total property value decreases for the town and local school district.
Rosebrook noted that under Stec's proposal, people earning more than the median income in many Warren County towns would receive substantial tax exemptions. Those tax losses incurred would, in many cases, be subsidized by younger taxpayers who earn less than those receiving the tax break.
"Maybe I'm more conservative," Rosebrook said. "But there has to be some fairness."
Most seniors who receive the Aged Exemption are also eligible for the state-reimbursed STAR exemption on school taxes.
Local towns and counties are predicting increases to the local tax rates if Stec's countywide proposal is successful.
Rosebrook added that the oldest members of the baby boomer generation are now reaching 65 years old.
"Who's going to be left to pay the taxes?" Rosebrook said.
About 200 people receive the Aged Exemption in Warrensburg, according to local Assessor Greg Klingler. Some are at the full 50 percent tax reduction while many others receive a lower percentage, often 20 percent, because of Warrensburg's relatively low threshold.
The towns with valuable waterfront property tend to have higher maximum thresholds than those without, officials said.
Both Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty and Johnsburg Supervisor Ron Vanselow said they've heard discussions about the push to increase the thresholds throughout Warren County.
Vanselow said he isn't sure of the proposal's potential impacts on the local budget.
Geraghty said he's in favor of boosting Warrensburg's income threshold but added that the state's maximums are relatively high for the area.
"I've got to see the numbers," Geraghty said.
Stec, and Queensbury Assessor Teri Ross, have already begun lobbying Queensbury Union Free School District officials to join the proposal. He said it's important to have the schools on board because the districts often comprise the lion's share of local taxes.
"The board is going to maintain its current levels," Huntley said.
Local officials noted that the state's maximum thresholds are primarily designed for more expensive downstate communities, where the cost of living is significantly higher than upstate.
Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said he hasn't heard about the coming proposal.
Stec said he is confident that he can garner support for the initiative among local governments.
"The best that could come from this is if the schools adjusted their tables," Stec said. "We're encouraging people to call the school systems."