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Watertown’s mayor sees too many tax-exempt properties

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 6:03 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - One-third of Watertown properties don’t pay property taxes. It’s likely land owned by a non-profit, a tax-exempt entity.

If you pay property taxes, you might think this isn’t right. And Mayor Jeff Smith agrees with you.

Samaritan Medical Center, St. Patrick’s Church, and the Dulles State Office Building serve different purposes, but they have one thing in common: they are all property tax-exempt.

Thirty-one percent of properties in Watertown fall in that category and Smith wonders if there is a way to get revenue from those properties.

“The more property that is taken off the tax roll for agencies that don’t pay taxes, for however good intention, that puts a burden on other people,” he said.

It’s an idea that Smith brought up at Monday’s city council meeting, potentially charging non-taxable properties a fee or tailoring the amount of land non-profits can use within city limits.

However, City Assessor Brian Phelps says not so fast.

“The fact is that from a taxation point of view, purely from a property tax point of view, there is nothing that the city can do. If they are state-mandated, they are state-mandated,” he said.

But Smith says getting a small percentage of money back into the city’s coffers could help the city in the long run.

“That’s significant. That pays for police, fire, roads, and maintenance to the city,” he said.

Smith says talks are very preliminary and there are no plans in place yet.

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