Orange County bill to allow cities to tax real estate sales has stalled

A bill that would allow Orange County towns to tax real estate sales and use the proceeds to keep space open remains stuck in the state Senate, with the two Democratic county senators taking opposing positions on the proposal.

The Assembly approved the bill with almost no dissent in June and last year, but the Senate did not put it to a vote. If enacted, it would allow any town or city in Orange County to impose a real estate transfer tax – if approved by voters in a referendum – to generate funds to buy properties. properties or development rights to farms and other desirable expanses. State law now grants this option in the counties of Ulster, Westchester and Putnam.

Senator Jen Metzger, a Democrat from Rosendale who sponsored the bill and a similar bill that added Ulster County last year, said in a statement Thursday that she wanted to help communities in County of Orange to “protect irreplaceable farmland and open spaces from development pressures – pressures that keep growing.”

Metzger introduced a separate bill in February to extend the same privilege to all cities in the state except New York. She argues that each municipality “should be able to determine for itself, through a local referendum, the best way to protect these resources without having to seek the approval of the state legislature in each case. individual ”.

Senator James Skoufis

Senator James Skoufis, D-Cornwall, said Thursday he was concerned about granting county-wide transfer tax clearance as it could result in thousands of dollars in additional closing costs for homebuyers – in a state that already has the highest closing costs in the country.

“It is costing working-class and middle-class New Yorkers too much to buy a house in this state,” he said.

Skoufis said he supported the purchase of development rights along with other sources of funding, suggesting that Woodbury, for example, could use its hotel tax revenues – largely generated by visitors from outside the State – for this purpose. He also said he could support transfer tax demands for individual cities with “extreme development pressures,” as he did last year for Chester.

Orange County lawmakers voted unanimously in favor of the county bill last year, and Woodbury village administrators were expected to pass a resolution supporting the legislation on Thursday evening.

Woodbury Mayor Tim Egan said earlier Thursday that his board formed an eight-member committee last month to develop a community preservation plan that would identify which properties the village would seek to preserve, if it had the option of imposing a transfer tax.

The goal, he said, was to preserve green spaces without stifling any development.

“We want to make sure he’s not overdeveloped,” Egan said.

The Senate and Assembly passed a bill last year allowing the city of Chester – which had previously drawn up a preservation plan with targeted plots – to impose a transfer tax if voters approved it. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill in November, citing an ongoing federal lawsuit by developers who claim the city has asked for the tax as part of a discriminatory campaign to block new housing for the Hasidic families.

Cuomo signed the bill for the towns of Ulster County the following month.

Real estate agents strongly oppose transfer taxes, saying they lower home values ​​for sellers while increasing costs for buyers. The New York State Association of Realtors says 15 municipalities sought to impose such taxes in 2007 alone, calling these efforts a “direct attack on housing affordability and commercial real estate investment. “.

Chester officials had planned to impose a transfer tax of 0.75, the same amount that neighboring Warwick has charged on part of the sale price of each property since 2006. In 2017, Warwick – one of seven towns state with such a tax – had raised $ 5.8 million through that tax and used it to preserve 4,000 acres.

Orange County’s pending bill would simply add the county name to legislation first passed in 2007 for Putnam and Westchester counties. An Orthodox Jewish advocacy group denounced the bill after the assembly passed it this year, saying it stemmed from “local unrest in Orange County against Hasidim buying property.” .

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Esther L. Steinbach

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