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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara

"Grown in New York taking root"

ALBANY, June 24 -- It may not be getting the widespread public attention I believe it deserves, but New York’s about to take one of the biggest steps we’ve ever taken toward delivering long-awaited and badly needed property tax relief for state farmers.

That's because both houses of the Legislature have unanimously approved legislation to place a 2% cap on annual agricultural land assessment increases. Now it goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law.

To me, it’s big news – as much for what it does as for what it signals for the future. The action came just a few days after a celebration I attended in my Senate district, in the town of Howard, Steuben County, to recognize the 200th anniversary of Howard Flats Farm – the longest continuously owned family farm in New York State, now working on its sixth generation. We need more celebrations like these in New York, and this legislation points us in the right direction on achieving that goal.

For starters, let’s focus on what it does. I’ll turn to Dean Norton, president of the New York Farm Bureau, the state’s most prominent farm-family advocate, to deliver the first reaction: “The passage of the 2% cap on agricultural assessments is welcome news on farms all across New York. Not one farm has been immune to the skyrocketing property taxes that make it more difficult to provide local food and products to their communities. (This legislation) will go a long way to keep New York families on their farms.”

In other words, this is a pretty solid move for New York State’s agricultural industry. The legislation was a cornerstone of a plan called "Grown in New York," a comprehensive economic development strategy for New York State agriculture that I co-sponsored and unveiled with my Senate Republican colleagues earlier this year. The reason was clear: property tax increases have been crushing our family farms and driving too many of them out of business for too long. New York farmers have labored under the second highest property tax burden in America. It’s been unfair.

Specifically, state farmers have seen rising land values drive up property taxes on farmland over the past several years, essentially doubling since 2006. The two-percent cap on ag assessment increases -- which has been a top priority for the Farm Bureau -- was prompted by alarming increases in farmers’ property taxes statewide. Currently, according to Farm Credit East, New York farmers pay $38.41 per acre in property taxes -- the second-highest rate in the country that, on average, accounts for 15% of a farm’s net income and puts state farmers at a clear competitive disadvantage.

So it’s about time we took this action. We’re hopeful that it will make a difference for our next generation of family farmers to help them grow, prosper and stay competitive.

But many of us have been beating the drum about high property taxes for years. So this action is important on another level too. The approval of this key plank of the Senate’s “Grown in New York” strategy just may be signaling a shift in the Albany mindset. It received unanimous, overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and Assembly. The Senate has long championed and acted on property tax relief initiatives like this one, but that has not been the case in a state Assembly dominated by a New York City-based, urban-oriented leadership.

Major opinion shifts rarely happen overnight in the Legislature. Victories on most key issues – like this one – take years of laying the groundwork. Supporters keep rolling up their sleeves, session after
session, and getting back to work on making the case and securing enough bipartisan support to make action inevitable.

That’s certainly been the case on property tax relief. So will this success on long-overdue and badly needed farm property tax relief open the door to the approval of other parts of our “Grown in New York” agenda? Only time will tell, but you can bet that it’s given us a great shot of hope. You can bet that we’ll keep pushing other provisions of “Grown in New York,” which we first put forward in March, and stay focused on tax cuts, regulatory reform, market expansion and a series of other economic growth initiatives that have been high priorities for the state’s farmers and so many upstate, rural communities.

In other words, we’ll get back to work on it. We need to take actions that keep our farmers competitive for the long haul. We can’t risk New York State’s farmers being taxed, regulated and priced out of business.

The “Grown in New York” plan is a common sense blueprint to keep New York a proud and strong agricultural state – as we always have been, and should always remain.

Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara

Schuyler County Officials

Legislature Members:

Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison

Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field


Legislature Chairman

Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687

Legislature Members:

Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967

Doris L. Karius, 546-5544

Barbara Halpin, 594-3683

Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385

Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517

Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482

Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335

County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133

Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222

Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222

County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181

District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383


State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

United States Senate
313 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-3201
DC Phone: 202-224-6542
DC Fax: 202-228-3027
Email Address:

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senate
478 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
DC Phone: 202-224-4451

State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)

Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12247
Phone: (518) 455-2091
Fax: (518) 426-6976

Assemblyman Christopher Friend -- Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
Room 720, Legislative Office Building
Albany, NY 12248
Phone: (518) 455-4538


© The Odessa File 2011
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869