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Potsdam mayor proposes tax breaks for new homeowners

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POTSDAM — Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis has proposed several tax breaks to encourage more homeowners to move to the village.

Municipalities can pick and choose to enact tax breaks from a state-approved list. Mr. Yurgartis said he searched through the state-sanctioned tax breaks to find those that encourage more home ownership.

According to Mr. Yurgartis, there are several reasons to want more permanent village residents, but an expanded tax base is most important.

“First, we want to expand our tax base, and this is a way to invest in our future,” he said.

With plenty of land owned by SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson University and Canton-Potsdam Hospital, about 75 percent of property in the village is tax-exempt. Short-term tax breaks that bring in more residents can help ease the village’s tight budget in the long run.

In addition, he said, homeowners are more likely than renters to invest their efforts into making their hometown a better place.

“It’s a part of that village life,” he said.

About 70 percent of village residential property is rented.

The following proposals are on the table:

n A 100 percent village property tax exemption for renovations to make buildings environmentally friendly. The full exemption would last three to six years, depending on the building’s level of LEED certification. Once the full exemption expires it would drop by 20 percent a year until the owner is paying full taxes.

n A permanent property tax exemption of 5 to 45 percent for people with disabilities. The size of the exemption would be based on the recipient’s income.

n A five-year exemption for first-time home buyers purchasing newly constructed homes. The exemption would start at 50 percent and drop by 10 percent a year.

n A 100 percent property tax exemption for the addition of an apartment to a home, if the apartment houses a parent or grandparent of the homeowner. This exemption would cover only the value of the apartment, not the entire home, and would expire as soon as a parent or grandparent no longer is living there.

This last item drew protest from Trustee Eleanor F. Hopke when it was first proposed to the board Monday. She voted against even giving the proposal a public hearing, arguing that the tax break would encourage the construction of apartments that eventually would be rented out to others.

“I do not think the village of Potsdam needs any more multifamily housing,” she said. “Once the apartment is in the house, it’s there forever. I think it should die right now.”

Despite her protests, all four proposals will go before the board next month. Meetings to solicit public comment on the tax breaks will start at 6:40 p.m. Oct. 7, before the regular board meeting.

In addition to the proposed tax incentives, Mr. Yurgartis said, he is working on more ways to boost village home ownership. He is in talks with the colleges and the hospital, requesting that they provide housing assistance for employees looking to own a home.

He also is working to convince the public that living in the village is worth it.

Residents pay about $15 more per $1,000 of assessed property value than those living outside the village. This money pays for services such as a police force, sidewalks, lighting, water and sewer.

“I’d really like to put an end to this conventional wisdom that the village is too expensive to live in,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

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