McAvoy reiterates tax exemption stance

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Arkwright Town Supervisor Brian McAvoy revisited a discussion on tax exemptions at a recent meeting.

ARKWRIGHT — After a discussion on the matter a month prior, the topic of tax exemptions came up again at a recent Town Board meeting.

Supervisor Brian McAvoy summed up his statements from the previous meeting by stating he still believes everything he said previously.

“I said the county can do what the county wants to do, I think we should stay in our own lane; I favor simplicity; and I don’t want to do anything that’s too selective, I favor broad based tax reductions instead of selective exemptions. I stand by all those things,” McAvoy said.

“I said it in haste … and I do, really apologize. I sincerely apologize for being snarky about it, because I don’t want people to not bring stuff up. … But I agree with everything I said. I still agree with all of that.”

Currently in the Town of Arkwright, the upper limit of income for a senior citizen to receive a tax exemption on 50% of its tax bill in the Town is $16,000. The figure was previously $9,500 in a local law passed in 1990. McAvoy clarified that he “clearly” does not want any resident of the Town to lose an exemption they already qualify for.

Six residents are currently receiving a senior citizen tax exemption from the Town, at a total combined assessed value of $220,603.

At a 50% value exemption, the Town is not receiving taxes on $110,301.50 of property value, amounting to $1,039 of revenue lost for the Town.

The topic was raised last month by Town Board member Larry Ball after Chautauqua County initially raised the income level limit for senior citizens to qualify for an exemption to $58,000. Since then, the figure has been reduced dramatically. The county has settled on a limit of $30,000, which McAvoy explained was chosen after consulting with the Office of the Aging. The median income level for senior citizens in the county was deemed to be just below $30,000.

McAvoy wants to protect residents currently receiving an exemption, so that social security increases do not impact the exemption, but he does not want to be “rolling a whole bunch more people into it.” If the loss of income to the town from the exemption becomes substantial, the burden could fall on residents who are not senior citizens, regardless of their income.

“You’ve got people who are struggling who aren’t necessarily senior citizens, so you don’t want to shift that tax burden to them unnecessarily,” McAvoy said.

When it comes to adjusting the figures moving forward, McAvoy suggested four potential options for the Board to consider. The first option is to increase the income limit to align with social security increases, which would set a limit of $19,225. The second option, which McAvoy preferred, is to adjust the limit according to the consumer price index from 1990 to now, which would bring the limit to $22,147. The third option would adjust from the consumer price index’s 2021 figure, which would bring the limit to $19,000. The fourth option is to adopt the County figure of $30,000. The Board could also elect to not make any adjustments.

McAvoy said while he is unsure of how many more residents would be impacted if the limit is raised to $30,000, he feels comfortable the Town can absorb any additional loss of revenue to account for residents covered under the $22,147 figure.

“My opinion is we’re not going to let anybody lose an exemption they are already getting. We’re going to take care of people if we can,” McAvoy said. “… It’s just a question of doing the arithmetic now and coming up with a fair number. Again, my preference would be not to bring a whole bunch of people into this because it just puts that tax burden on somebody else. We don’t want to do that.”

Town Board member Polly Gambino favored the stronger option McAvoy listed. She said, “We talk about the windmill money, to be able to give the money back to the residents, the people who actually live here. This is a great place to start.”

The Board did not take action at the meeting. The topic is expected to be discussed further at the next meeting.

Regarding another tax exemption, specific to firefighters and first responders, McAvoy took a different tone than he had on the senior citizens tax exemption a month prior.

The firefighter tax exemption, which applies to 10% of a home’s assessed value, can only be applied if a firefighter lives in a municipality that receives fire protection from the department in which they maintain active membership. For Arkwright, the only fire departments that provide fire protection are Cassadaga and Forestville, excluding mutual aid assistance.

McAvoy also highlighted that if the 10% property tax exemption is received, it must be in place of the $200 annual income tax credit available to firefighters and first responders. For that to be worth it for a resident of the Town of Arkwright, McAvoy claimed a home would need an assessed value of more than $600,000.

“To get a $200 benefit with our current equalization rate, your market value of your house would have to be $624,000,” McAvoy said. “… Maybe you live in a million dollar home and you still want to be a firefighter, God bless you.”

Despite a belief that not many, if any, will take advantage of the exemption, McAvoy made the point that it should still be up to the individual to make the decision for themselves. By making the option available, he believes it is a sign of good faith to the departments that serve the Town.

“Even if it’s little more than a show of goodwill, I would like to go forward with this to show both Cassadaga and Forestville that there is some appreciation,” McAvoy said. “We need those fire departments.”

Like the other exemption, the Board did not take official action on the matter, but more discussion is expected at the next monthly meeting.


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