Guilderland expands tax exemption for elderly residents with limited incomes

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Councilwoman Christie Napierski brought up her father, Eugene Napierski — shown here casting his vote at a 2018 Guilderland Democratic caucus — as one of many people with disabilities who would not be able to benefit from a law granting tax exemptions because, as a retiree, he would not have the “proof” required by the law.

GUILDERLAND — After holding a public hearing where no one spoke, the Guilderland Town Board on Tuesday unanimously adopted a local law that will let more residents age 65 and older get a break on their town taxes.

Based on state law, exemptions are allowed on a sliding scale: Someone with an annual income of $58,400 will get a 5-percent exemption while someone with an annual income of $50,000 or less will get a 50-percent exemption.

The former threshold of $37,400 was adopted in 2006, Supervisor Peter Barber had told the board on Oct. 3, “which is the last time the state allowed towns and villages and cities to increase tha exemption.”

“In the end,” said Barber, “the town is really not out any money. It’s just that the tax burden is shifted to everybody else.”

Melissa Wood, an assessment clerk for Guilderland, clarified for The Enterprise that the threshold numbers apply to an individual if that person is living alone but, for a couple sharing a household, the incomes are combined.

When the Guilderland Town Board approved the initial exemptions in 2006, it did so incrementally, Barber said, so as not to strain the tax base. This time, the town board went right to the maximum allowed by the state.

Albany County recently adopted a similar provision, Barber noted at the Oct. 17 meeting, when he also stressed that the town’s exemption does not apply to taxes levied by other jurisdictions like the school or library or fire districts.

“This law makes me scratch my head,” said Barber of the state legislation, which he said has “some quirkiness.” 

“One thing,” he said, “is: Why doesn’t this stay up with inflation? Why do we do this every 17 years?”

He noted that, as Social Security payments go up and as people earn more interest, “they start  getting too much income and they start losing a benefit.”

Barber went on, “It’s one size fits all, and $58,400 is the same income level that we apply down in Long Island … but it also applies up in Lewis County,” he said, alluding to cost-of-living differences in a downstate suburban area as opposed to an upstate rural one.

Councilman Jacob Crawford said the new law could create “opportunities for seniors to stay in this community that they’ve helped build.”

Also on Tuesday, the board voted to schedule a public hearing for Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. on a similar local law that would expand the exemption from town property taxes for eligible disabled persons.

“Both laws are substantially the same,” said Barber, noting that Albany County has also adopted the exemption for people with disabilities.

The exemption would work on the same sliding scale with a disabled person who has an annual income of $50,000 or less getting an exemption of 50 percent while someone with an income of $58,400 would get a 5-percent exemption.

Councilwoman Christine Napierski asked about the “definition of a disabled person.”

She said, “I’ll use my own father as an example. He’s obviously disabled; he can no longer walk or speak. But he’s a senior citizen so he’s not working so he doesn’t have a formal letter … How would someone similarly situated apply for that exemption?”

Barber said Napierski had a valid point but said the local law had to follow the state legislation.

The proposed local law, under “Required Proof,” says, “An award letter from the Social Security Administration or the Railroad Retirement Board, or a certification from the State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, or an award letter from the United States Postal Service shall be submitted as proof of disability.”

“We can’t do anything about it because we have to follow the state law — I understand that,” said Napierski. “But I just want to point out that this leaves out a lot of people who are disabled ….”

Barber said he wished the town could make changes.

“This is a well-intentioned law but it leaves out a lot of people …,” said Napierski. “That’s …maybe something our state wants to look at, at some point.”

“I agree,” said Barber.



On Tuesday, the board held two other public hearings — neither of which garnered any comments — required by the state’s Town Law on Guilderland’s sewer department budget.

The first hearing was on the expense of improvements. Barber said that anyone living within the existing improvement district will see a decrease of about 94 cents on their tax bill while anyone living in the proposed extension district will see an increase of $3.87.

The second hearing was on the expense of operation and maintenance of the sewer district.

“This budget proposes a decrease of $3.19 from the previous year,” said Barber.

He also noted, “The overall increase, once you include both of the public hearings, would be about 26 cents.”


Zone change for solar facility

On Tuesday, the town board also voted unanimously to make itself the lead agency under the State Environmental Quality Review Act for a proposed solar facility that involves a zone change.

The board scheduled a public hearing for Nov. 9, at 7:15 p.m., on the application to rezone 68.45 acres from an existing 128-acre parcel, located at 6283 Farm Lane, off of Foundry Road, from a Residential Overlay district to a Rural Agricultural district with a 3-acre minimum.

The zoning change would allow a large solar facility to be built west of Foundry Road and east of the town’s golf course. Loren Pruskowski, describing himself as the son of Diane and Gary Pruskowski and the owner of Ecolegacy Values, told the town board in July the limited liability company is “holding the development assets on behalf of my family.” He said the facility would not be visible from people’s homes.

Kenneth Kovalchik, the town’s planner, wrote in a July 12 memo to the town board that the property is identified in the 2007 Guilderland Hamlet Neighborhood Plan as “agricultural.” So the zoning change “supports the vision for this neighborhood,” said Kovalchik who recommends the change.

There would be two separate sites of arrays on the rezoned property, Dave Byrne, of Renua Energy, told the board in July. A smaller array to the north would be a ground-mount fixed-tilt array for 2.8 megawatts, he said, while the larger array to the south would “have what’s called a single-access tracker” for 5 megawatts.

The panels would be able to absorb sunlight from both their front and back sides, he said. The tracker tilts panels so they follow the sun, angling to get the most light depending on the time of day.

After going through utility review, the project has been approved for 7.8 megawatts, Byrne said.


Other business

In other business at its Oct. 17 meeting, the Guilderland Town Board:

— Awarded a contract for leasing carts at the town’s Western Turnpike Golf Course to Satch Sales, the lowest responsible bidder. Satch Sales will charge roughly $12,600 monthly while the other bidder, Five Star, would have charged roughly $15,700 monthly.

Satch Sales is the current lessee, Barber said, adding, “We’re actually getting more of these carts because golf is becoming even more popular, which is good”;

— Approved modifications to the town’s 2023 budget, including moving roughly $3.65 million from the water department’s fund balance to water capital improvements, which Barber said would be used for replacing water meters and for funding filters so that the town’s currently unused wells may be used again “down the road.” Also, roughly $1.5 million was shifted from a fund balance for a water interface fund transfer between the golf course and the water department, Barber said.

Further, $1.65 million from the sewer fund balance was moved to sewer capital improvements for the sewer facility. Finally, $1 million was moved from the highway fund balance to the highway reserve that deals with equipment.

Barber said the remaining fund balances for water, sewer, and highway are “very healthy; they’re well above what we think are necessary, at least 25 percent or more …. It’s good practice to get these reserves fully funded so that we can have the money set aside for these very significant capital improvements”; and

— Heard from Barber that Saturday, Oct. 28, is both Drug Take-Back Day and Household Hazardous Waste Day. Both events run from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Residents can confidentially hand over their prescription drugs to Guilderland Police officers stationed at the public library at 2228 Western Ave. “Drugs sitting in medicine cabinets are dangerous not only for children, but also for people who are addicted,” said Barber, stating people will break into houses to raid medicine cabinets.

Hazardous household waste may be dropped off, free of charge, at the town’s highway garage at 6338 Frenchs Mill Road.

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