A tale of two cities: Ogdensburg and Watertown taxes

Published: Dec. 14, 2022 at 6:05 PM EST
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OGDENSBURG and WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Did you know an Ogdensburg property owner pays twice the amount in taxes than someone in Watertown?

Under its new budget for 2023, Ogdensburg’s property taxes will go up 4 percent to $16.59 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“These are very tough decisions. The city is in a tough spot financially in terms of being able to provide services at the same level,” said Interim City Manager Andrea Smith.

This is a stark difference when compared to the city of Watertown, which has a tax rate of $8.78 per $1,000 of assessed value.

“If you compare us with other cities across the state, our property tax rate is on the lower end. It’s a reasonable amount,” said Watertown City Manager Ken Mix.

An Ogdensburg house assessed at $150,000 has a city tax bill of $2,488. A Watertown house assessed at the same value pays half the tax: $1,317.

Taxes pay for city services like police and fire.

In Ogdensburg, a property owner gets a 23-person police department, according to its website, and a 17-member fire department, including the fire chief.

Compare this to Watertown where less is paid in tax and those city services employ more people.

But there are things that make Watertown and Ogdensburg different. Population for one. Ogdensburg’s population is much smaller.

Also, Ogdensburg is home to a lot of tax-exempt properties. Nearly 60 percent of the land in the city isn’t taxable because it’s owned by the school, church, or state.

In Watertown, 30 percent of the land is not taxable.

As for how Watertown’s taxes can remain so low, Mix says we can thank the hydroelectric plant which can generate up to an additional $5 million.

“If it was not for the hydro generation and the revenue from that, we would be in a tighter fiscal situation,” he said.

A tale of two cities, but also a reality of numbers as Ogdensburg tries to find ways to avoid a possible bankruptcy down the road.

“It has been very helpful to have these open conversations between departments to help everybody understand what the goals and mission is for planning fire, police, and DPW,” said Smith.

One other reason why Watertown’s tax rate is lower is that it receives more financial assistance from New York state.