Ithaca, N.Y. — Mayor Svante Myrick is asking that Ithaca pay nearly 4 percent more to its city government in property taxes in 2015 than it did in 2014.
Mayor Myrick is also proposing — in his budget for 2015, unveiled Wednesday — that each Ithaca resident pay a lower rate in property taxes in 2015 than he or she did in 2014.
“This is sort of difficult to communicate,” Myrick said at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.
So here’s what’s going on:
Your property taxes are determined by two variables:
1 — How much is the property worth? (This is determined by an “assessor.”);
2 — What percentage of that “worth” does your government, in this case Ithaca, think you should pay toward taxes? This is called a tax rate. It’s how the mayor and Ithaca determine how much money comes into the government.
As for the first variable: The assessed value of property in Ithaca has increased by 6 percent, according to the mayor. That’s because the city is growing at a rapid clip, with a growth spurt in development.
Which means that — even if the mayor and council choose to do nothing — the overall amount going back into the city will be increasing. The lump sum of the city’s property taxes are what’s known as a “tax levy.”
(Stay with us! This stuff is important.)
Myrick is hoping to raise the property tax levy by 3.9 percent — or around $800,000. So, collectively, as a city, Ithaca would be paying $800,000 more in property taxes.
But because the first variable in taxpayers’ bills is going up by so much, the mayor can raise this money without raising the second.
In fact, he says that the city’s growth — which means that more money is being sent into the system overall — allows Ithaca to reduce its tax rate.
“We have enough new value in the system that the average home owner’s rate is going to go down,” Myrick said.
Myrick is suggesting lowering the rate by around 28 cents for every $1,000 in assessed value, which would translate into a $53 decrease in property taxes for the average home owner, or a reduction from $2,482 to $2,439.
Now, this doesn’t save taxpayers from facing higher bills: If their assessed values went up by a lot, their tax bill will, too, regardless of the decreased rate.
There’s a complicating factor here. While the mayor hopes to lower the property tax rate, he has also pushed through storm water and sidewalk fees — “utilities” — that are costing taxpayers more.
The storm water fee imposes a $48 fee on the average single-family household, according to The Ithaca Journal. The sidewalk policy imposes a $75 fee.
“On the fee side, taxpayer costs have increased,” Myrick acknowledged.
But, he said, “Folks are getting a lot more service.”
Myrick said he has no further anticipated special fees “in the crosshairs,” but is open to something if it comes up and makes sense.
A few other points from the mayor’s press briefing:
— Most city departments will not see significant changes to their staffing levels or budgets.
— Myrick expects sales tax revenue to increase by about 2 percent.
— The mayor said the city is hoping to spend money on a storm water engineer to study creek walls after the “ice jams” from last winter.
“We have not had ice jams in a generation,” Myrick said. “Our hope is we do not face the same set of conditions that caused the ice jam.”
— The mayor said city staff would be going to the town of Ithaca to discuss paying for parks.
— The water rate for taxpayers will go up 10 percent, according to Myrick.
“That’s not good news,” he said, noting that they also increased 10 percent last year.
Myrick said the federal government had mandated that the city improve the quality of its drinking water, leading Ithaca to build an expensive new water treatment plant.
— The mayor’s salary is staying the same.
— Myrick said he looks forward to working with Cornell’s next president, Elizabeth Garrett, about the university’s Memorandum of Understanding.
“No, I didn’t shake her down yesterday,” Myrick joked in response to a question.
Myrick said the city and Cornell have done productive things together. But he hopes that Garrett will agree to pay more under the MOU.
“I’m hopeful the next administration will see more clearly how beneficial a higher contribution can be to the university,” Myrick said.