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The Tompkins County Legislature's Government Operations Committee today recommended Legislature consideration of two initiatives that could help address the county's housing shortage.

The committee recommended that a public hearing be scheduled on June 6th, 5:30 p.m., on a possible new Local Law that would, if approved, adopt a permitted exemption under New York State Real Property Tax Law on infrastructure improvements made by a developer. The proposed law would provide a three-year abatement of County tax on the increase in value due to improvements made to public infrastructure (utilities and road), as long as the developer retains ownership of the newly subdivided lots. Those holding costs are described as one of the many impediments to building for-sale housing.

Scheduling the hearing was approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote, but the proposed law itself was recommended by a split vote of 3-2 (Legislators Rich John and Carol Chock dissenting). Legislator John said he would like to hear what the public thinks about the proposal, but cautioned that he is somewhat skeptical about the exemption, which he said seems like "blunt instrument" to address the housing issue. Director of Assessment Jay Franklin told the committee the exemption could not be focused on particular areas or types of housing developments, such as for-sale or affordable housing. Legislator Chock would have preferred delaying making any recommendation on the proposed Local Law until after the hearing is conducted. Local developer Sue Cosentini addressed the committee, saying that, while there is "no magic bullet" to spur development of affordable housing, having such an exemption would help.

In a separate action, the committee, without dissent (Chair Dan Klein was excused), also recommended that the Legislature urge New York State to amend the Real Property Tax Law to allow a local Tompkins County option to provide a partial exemption for multi-unit residential properties converted to owner-occupied residences, as has been authorized as a local option for other cities.

Responding to an expected higher vacancy rate in older housing stock from the effects of planned development in the county and to encourage owner-occupied housing, the proposed exemption would forego any increase in assessment in the first year, and slowly add the increase to the tax base over the next seven years. If the exemption were allowed by New York State and adopted by Tompkins County, any municipality or school district within the county would have the option of passing it, as well.