FORT EDWARD — Washington County is marshaling to take on the state.
After years of failed requests for a mortgage tax increase, supervisors are organizing a united effort with SUNY Adirondack to get the tax.
“Let’s go to Albany and give them holy hell,” said Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman.
Supervisors decided to persuade SUNY Adirondack to help them lobby the state Legislature for the increase, all of which would be funneled to the college. The united front, they said, might succeed where their previous efforts have failed.
Supervisors discussed trying for a different tax increase — a $1 per $1,000 of assessed property increase in the transfer tax. That would need state approval, just like the mortgage tax increase.
In the end, supervisors decided to focus on the quarter-percent increase in mortgage tax, which would bring the county to the same tax level as surrounding counties.
“We focus on it. And we do it vehemently. And be a real pain in the neck about it,” Idleman said, convincing the supervisors at Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting.
The county has repeatedly promised to dedicate the mortgage tax increase to SUNY Adirondack. That was a successful strategy for other counties, but the Senate Republicans are no longer approving tax increases for any reason.
County Administrator Chris DeBolt said he saw no reason why the mortgage tax request would get approved if the county tried again.
“Not with the current leadership in the Senate,” he said.
He proposed requesting both a transfer tax increase and the mortgage tax increase.
“If we had two requests in, we could use one to horse trade for the other,” he said.
He also suggested making the request as soon as next year’s session starts because representatives will have just won re-election and might be less worried about their next election campaign.
But the county tried that timing the first time it asked for the mortgage tax increase, said Board of Supervisors Chairman and Argyle Supervisor Bob Henke.
He did not hold out much hope for success.
“I’ve talked to probably 30 people down there,” he said. “They say, ‘Sounds like you’re in trouble, but tough s—-, we aren’t going to do it, we have an election.’ ”
Hampton Supervisor David O’Brien agreed that the mortgage tax request wasn’t going to happen.
“That’s dead in the water,” he said, suggesting that county officials try for the transfer tax instead. “This one, the seller pays. So it’s not increasing the cost of home-ownership (for buyers).”
But several supervisors objected to the transfer tax. It is currently $4 per $1,000 of assessed property. It is paid by the seller to the county clerk when the deed is transferred to a new owner, but all of the money goes to the state. The county can, with state Legislature permission, add up to $2 per $1,000 to the tax and keep it.
Supervisors philosophically objected to the existence of a transfer tax.
“I pay the tax when I bought the house. Why should I pay a tax when I sell the house?” asked Fort Ann Supervisor Rich Moore.
“The transfer tax is already a damn big tax, and the state gets it all,” he said.
Hartford Supervisor Dana Haff said he would oppose any increase in taxes. But the rest of the board said there was a difference between paying a tax to get a mortgage — which can be avoided by paying cash for a property — and paying a tax just because you sold the property.
With the exception of Haff, the board agreed that they would far rather increase the mortgage tax.
In the short-term, it would help them pay a $2.74 million loan taken out in 2015 to help SUNY Adirondack expand its science building. In the long-term, the revenue would be used to fund the college and its future capital projects.
They also plan to argue that some taxes are a good thing.
“Mortgage taxes are progressive taxes,” Idleman said. “Taxes enable us to do things that are good for the community. Look at what kind of tax this is.”