Editor, The Spotlight;
The reassessment project in the Town of Bethlehem is flawed in several ways. The most obvious is how the values were established for agricultural and vacant land. Comparable sales of ag land in Bethlehem are non-existent, so GAR took values from Schoharie and Columbia counties and used a formula assessing the land incrementally on the acreage.
In Schoharie and Columbia counties there are more full-time and larger scale farms than in Albany County, especially in dairy, livestock and grain. Bethlehem is NOT an agricultural community. The land values given by GAR on farmland ranged from $2600 to over $5000 per acre. There is a high demand for land anywhere with a strong presence of agriculture like Washington, Rensselaer, Schoharie and Columbia. Competition is high for ag land and of course, the land is an essential part of the business itself. In Bethlehem, all farms are part-time or substantially subsidized by off-farm income. The revenue generated by farm activities here will never be self-sustaining. Soil quality is lower in Bethlehem, which GAR could have seen from soil and water maps.
As an example, if I rented 100 acres to farmer for $30 an acre, I would collect $3,000. If the land is assessed at $4,000 per acre, I would have to pay roughly $10,500 in taxes. STAR and ag assessments will not relieve this kind of burden. How many landowners would want to keep their land with that scenario? There would be no buyer for this quality of land for $400,000.
Then there is the non-agricultural undeveloped (or vacant) land. In many cases this classification was hit even harder. Most of it is not profitable in any manner by its use. It may be land that extends one’s yard; some of it is not buildable and some of it is too wet to do anything with. The land is, however, valuable to the community by the character it preserves, the wildlife habitat it supports and the viewscapes enjoyed when one walks or drives through the town. It does all of this while not demanding services provided to the residentially developed community.
The Bethlehem Town Board, lead by Supervisor John Clarkson, needs to demand that GAR do the work it was paid to do and provide a quality product to our town. GAR did not do their due diligence, did not visit one parcel of land, used comparison values and formulas which do not apply. This is an injustice to those who have stewarded farmland and held onto open space for the sake of privacy and the beauty it gives to the community. It serves no good purpose to destroy greenspace when there is no call to do so, and in fact, there is a call to preserve it. GAR has not fulfilled its contract. Mr. Clarkson and the Town Board need to put a stay on this project until the job is done correctly.
Thomas E. Newell