Lake Chautauqua Is The New Malibu

The phone lines were lighting up at the assessor’s office last week when tax assessments for the town of Busti arrived in the mail.

If you bought a house in Lakewood within the past few years, you’ve just discovered that your property tax caught up with the assessed value of your home. That’s not surprising in itself, but the numbers are jaw dropping.

Our property taxes are almost three times out of pocket what they are in Malibu, Calif. – a place chosen for comparison due to its high cost of living.

Let’s take a look at a $500,000 lakefront home in Busti (dealing with a seaweed problem). That house carries a tax burden of $21,000 a year – an astounding figure that is hard to fathom.

A similarly priced property in Malibu will only carry a tax burden of $6,000 a year, because homes there are taxed at roughly 1.2 percent of their home’s value. In Chautauqua County, according to the governor’s office, houses are taxed at 2.58 percent of their value – among the highest of all 62 counties in New York state and indeed, the rest of the country.

In swanky Lake Geneva, Wis., a beautiful home was recently assessed at $605,000 and carries a tax burden of nearly $8,000 – nearly three times less than what someone here would pay for the same house.

Let’s take a look at a property in Lakewood assessed at less than $100,000

An $80,000 landlocked house that recently sold in Lakewood carried nearly $2,600 in property taxes.

Meanwhile, a homeowner in Vermont who lives near Lake Crystal will pay $1,600 a year in property taxes for an $85,000 home of a similar size.

I remember a different Chautauqua Lake – one dotted with neighbors that were born and raised here.

I miss the Andersons. They were year-round residents with several generations of family living in our neighborhood on the north side of the lake. When I woke up, I could always count on Mr. Anderson to be anchored somewhere near a buoy, fishing in the calm morning water. I knew everyone in their big family by name, but they’ve long since gone.

This is not a large metropolitan area rife with high-paying jobs. We’ve created a situation in which those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move on. Diversity becomes nonexistent. And local people – who are the heart of any neighborhood – disappear.

Here’s what is so alarming: The median property tax in the United States is $1,917 per year. In New York state, it’s $3,755 – 96 percent higher than the national median. And New York also has the highest local taxes in America as a percentage of personal income – 79 percent above the national average.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that lawmakers in Albany have hammered out a deal that includes $1.5 billion in property tax relief for New York homeowners. But there’s a catch: It’s linked to plans for local governments to become more efficient. There’s no sign that Albany is willing to curtail its own spending, but will leave it up to local and county governments instead.

In California in 1978, voters approved Proposition 13 to rein in property taxes that had doubled in 10 years. That’s why residents don’t pay $21,000 in property taxes unless they’re living in a multimillion dollar house along the ocean.

And so the big hole in New York state – and in our own neighborhood – grows wider, and good people drop through it and move to sunnier climes in search of lower taxes and higher salaries. Our children move away and they don’t come back.

I know I’m late to the argument. Someone said to me last week, “While you were away, Lake Chautauqua became the big trough that feeds our state and local governments.”

Big trough is too kind. That trough is actually the size of a lake. And it’s a big burden for any resident to shoulder, especially the common man.

Just ask the Andersons.