Syracuse’s assessment commissioner told city councilors this week that he will be diligently reviewing the status of over 40 city properties that are currently receiving a lucrative tax break for being a “mix-use building.” He states that he will revoke the exemption from any property that no longer qualifies.
Commissioner of Assessment David Clifford, quizzed by common councilors about tax breaks, said he will review any and all properties that receive this tax break, including building owners that get the 12-year tax exemption despite having only token commercial operations.
For example, an apartment complex called Copper Beech Commons has three vending machines, which are the only visible signs of commercial activity in the entire complex. Becuase of these vending machines, though, the owners save more than $500,000 a year with the 485-a property tax exemption.
Corporate income taxes comprised of 11% of the taxes collected by the federal government in 2015 alone. With cuts being given out to businesses that may or may not have enough operations to be considered “commercial,” that number could be greatly affected.
Originally, the state law was created to help turn underused and old buildings into places that people actually want to go to. The idea was to restore old buildings with things like street-level businesses and upper-floor apartments to bring back some action. This 485-a exemption was vaguely worded and easy to exploit, though. Some people stretch the rules so they get the tax break.
“They ought to tighten up some of the language,” Clifford said.
The Syracuse assessment commission said that they only way to make sure that property owners are meeting the requirements is to inspect each and every building each year. Clifford assigned assessors to begin reviewing the 40 properties after receiving questions from syracuse.com about the 485-a properties.
Because the law provides no clear language on when to rescind the tax breaks, he wants to work with the property owners to keep them in compliance instead of revoking the exemption.
“I’m not on real firm ground if I’m going to take peoples’ exemptions away,” Clifford said. “I’m sure they’re going to take us to court.”