#BethlehemNY #RealEstate #taxes #TransferTax #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
BETHLEHEM — The town’s proposed — and controversial — real estate transfer tax was the subject of an informational meeting held at the Bethlehem Public Library on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m.
Known officially as Senate Bill S3526B or Assembly Bill A3028B, it aims to authorize “the town of Bethlehem to establish community preservation funds; authorizes the town of Bethlehem to impose a real estate transfer tax with revenues therefrom to be deposited in said community preservation fund.”
While the tax would only be up to 2 percent, it is said to fund the town’s open space programs and help conserve land. While it did not pass during last year’s legislative session, town residents are concerned it could get reintroduced in the near future.
Among the concerns and questions should the bill pass, included whether the funds would indeed go into the open space programs or not, who exactly first wrote and proposed this bill, whether it may interfere with property rights, its potential negative effects on the local real estate market, and why the public did not hear about the proposal for a long period of time back when John Clarkson was still the town supervisor.
The latter concern stood out particularly for many of the residents in attendance that night, who demanded more transparency from the town government and disliked the “sneaky” nature of not fostering public discussions about it then.
The night’s panel was comprised of town board member Jim Foster (R); Michael Kelly, director of Government Affairs from New York State Association of REAL TORS, Inc.; Margaret J. Kanuk, a real estate agent with Howard Hannah, and Lisa Fortin, the Delmar branch manager for Homestead Funding.
The four helped to answer residents’ questions and informed them about the proposed bill’s background.
After the meeting, Foster confirmed in a phone interview, “I personally am opposed to any additional real estate transfer tax. I think there are a number of problems with the proposal, some of which are procedural in nature. I would’ve wanted more public input to weigh in on the bill.”
He explained that when the bill was first proposed last year, he was not yet a town board member, adding how then-Town Supervisor Clarkson did not openly inform the public about it. At the time, current Town Supervisor David VanLuven was just a town board member.
“If it were me in Clarkson’s shoes, my job in the town board wouldn’t end there,” Foster said. “If you’re not willing to talk publicly about the bill or anything else, I will. Every town board member does have an equal vote.”
Foster added that VanLuven “also should have been more open with encouraging public input and if I were him, I would’ve said to Clarkson that he should not have the right to not inform the public, but obviously that ship has sailed.”
VanLuven, who also attended the meeting, said in an interview the day after, “John [Clarkson’s] feeling was just to run it through the Legislature and then bring it up before the residents. But my response was that this is something where you’ve got to build grassroots support — go out to realtors, interested residents and even folks who have reservations about it, and explain it. John chose not to do that and there’s [been] this blowback ever since.”
While he believed that the bill will remain “dead,” VanLuven said the town should focus on more pressing and existing issues such as addressing the town’s community character, loss of local farmlands and increased road traffic. He did acknowledge private property owners have the right to sell their land to a developer, and the developer has the right to develop that property.
Foster said that he has recognized and appreciated that the proposed bill “doesn’t appear to be moving in the Senate or Assembly, resulting from many people coming forward and expressing their disapproval of it.”
However, it still concerns many residents because “there was a lack of information to them but when they’re fully informed of the proposed bill, they’re looking into the bottom line and most people’s biggest asset is their home. When you start talking about losing money or paying more taxes, that’s a big hit and lots of people wake up quickly.”
He wondered that had the public not been aware and taken issue to the proposed bill back in 2017, perhaps the bill “would have been processed through the Senate or Assembly.”
In turn, VanLuven said that he believes that any decision on a real estate transfer tax should be made by the town residents, not by the town board or the state Legislature.
He also said that if people do want to conserve open space in town, “we have to step up and pay for it. But we’ve got to find a way to come up with the resources if we want to protect them. Maybe build a fund that the town could use to work with interested residents, so that in the future we can still have farms, fields and forests.”