This page last updated 7Apr2010

Fairview Fire Tax

Copyright © 2008—2010 Bill Rubin

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead  

I am a taxpayer in the Fairview Fire District in Dutchess County, New York. The Fairview Fire District has been long known to have an unusually high fire tax rate. This website exists primarily to publish my investigations into issues related to the Fairview fire tax. See also my companion blog Property Tax in Dutchess County, described below.

Bill Rubin

How I Became Involved

Fire taxes have become an increasing burden to owners of taxable properties in the Fairview Fire District, which comprises part of the Town of Poughkeepsie and part of the Town of Hyde Park. On April 24, 2008, my wife Beverly Allyn and I — along with over 400 other Fairview residents — attended a meeting of the Fairview Fire Commissioners at Violet Avenue School. This meeting began my involvement with Fairview Fire District issues. Panelists at the meeting included State Sen. Stephen Saland, State Assemblyman Joel Miller, Town of Poughkeepsie Supervisor Patricia Myers, Town of Hyde Park Supervisor Pompey Delafield, Dutchess County Legislators James Doxsey, Dan Kuffner, and Diane Nash, and Town of Poughkeepsie Councilman Michael Cifone. Statements made at that meeting by residents, particularly by members of the Fairness for Fairview organization, opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of taxpayer dissatisfaction with the fire tax burden. Residents all but booed Sen. Saland and Assemblyman Miller out of the room after they gave what many perceived as lame excuses for why they hadn't solved Fairview's problem. Subsequent to the meeting, I came to understand another side to the issue: Scarcities of both volunteers and money have challenged the Fairview Fire Department for many years to maintain desired level of service in fire and emergency medical responses.

My Interests

My interests, as a Fairview taxpayer and resident, are in:

  1. Lowering the fire taxes for Fairview taxpayers — paying only our fair share.
  2. Maintaining — or even improving — the standard of fire protection and emergency service in Fairview.

Understanding the Problem

I began knowing nothing about the businesses of fire protection and emergency service. Therefore, my work has focused on fire tax issues, though I am mindful of the need to maintain or improve the services provided by the Fairview Fire District.

Owners of taxable property in Fairview are aware that their fire taxes are high. But beyond this, a quantitative sense of how high they are, and why, has been hard to come by. Some of the information available in late April, 2008, was unverifiable, misleading, and/or just plain wrong. I saw a need for concrete, precise, verifiable information to help us understand the problem better. By “verifiable” I mean that the reader does not need to trust what's written, because he can confirm it independently by himself. The purpose of this website is to provide some of this kind of information and analysis. I've tried to describe my investigations in such a way that the reader can compare the data with original sources, and can check all calculations. I've done this by carefully documenting the sources of all data, and by describing my calculations in detail. Related documents originating elsewhere have been added to this website if they are not readily available on the web. All documents are in Portable Document Format (PDF), unless otherwise noted.




Big Three Fire Districts


Of the 30 fire districts and fire protection districts in Dutchess County, I call the Arlington, LaGrange, and Fairview fire districts the big three fire districts. They are the big three in two different ways:


Document
Originator
Description and Commentary
Document #14

The Big Three Fire Districts of Dutchess County

7Apr2010
Bill Rubin A 31-page report compiling current and retrospective information about tax levies, tax rates, market values, and exempt percents for the big three fire districts into a series of 24 bar charts, 8 tables, and 4 pie charts, with analytical commentary. Bar charts include a ten-year history of market values, tax levies, and tax rates, and annual changes in these values. Highlights: In 2008, Fairview’s tax rate was 61 percent larger than Arlington’s, but in 2010, Fairview’s tax rate has become only 20 percent larger than Arlington’s. Furthermore, Arlington's universal fire tax rate — the tax rate if exempt properties paid fire tax — is 30 percent larger than Fairview's. If the City of Poughkeepsie’s fire department were a fire district, it would be in the Big Three.


Fire Tax Rates


Document #11 below justifies the claims that Fairview has the highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County, and that county-wide consolidation would solve Fairview's problem of high fire taxes. Document #12 shows that getting all tax exempt properties to pay fire tax would not solve Fairview's problem.


Document
Originator
Description and Commentary
Document #11

Fire District Consolidation in Dutchess County — A Taxpayer's Perspective

16Mar2009, revised 22Mar2009
Bill Rubin A 28-page report explaining why consolidation of all 30 fire districts in Dutchess County into a single county-wide fire district can make sense, from the taxpayer viewpoint. Such consolidation would generally result in improved level of service and/or cost savings which would be passed on to the taxpayers. Taxpayers in the highest rate fire districts would see dramatic decreases in their taxes, while taxpayers in the lowest rate fire districts would see modest increases. This report explores these effects in detail. No district would benefit more from consolidation than the Fairview Fire District, because it has the highest fire tax rate in Dutchess County. Recent New York State government initiatives and the economic meltdown mean that now is the most propitious time to form a county-wide fire district. (Revision limited to clarification of Level of Service on page 6.)
Document #12

Why are Fairview’s Fire Taxes so High?

16Mar2009
Bill Rubin A one-page memorandum showing that factors other than the large percent of tax exempt properties are of major importance in Fairview’s high fire tax rate. Even if none of Fairview’s properties were tax exempt, Fairview’s fire tax rate would still be the second highest in Dutchess County. Getting all tax exempt properties to pay fire tax does not solve Fairview’s problem.



Unfair Apportionment


Document #5 below justifies these claims about unfair apportionment. Document #6 is a web page allowing Fairview taxpayers to calculate their own unfairness. Document #7 shows that the unfair apportionment in 2008 causes Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie fire taxes for 2009 to change differently. Document #8 explains in detail how the apportionment mistakes came to be made. Document #9 recommends against increasing the compensation for FFD Treasurer James F. Passikoff, whose mistakes caused the unfair apportionment. Document #10 challenges FFD Commissioner John Anspach's public statements that the apportionment mistakes were not in violation of state law, and that the mistakes were not the responsibility of the Fairview Fire District.


Document
Originator
Description and Commentary
Document #5

Unfairness in Fairview — Inequitable Apportionment of the Fire Tax Levy

11Sep2008
Bill Rubin A 29-page report showing that Hyde Park property owners in Fairview paid more than their fair share of fire taxes in 2008. The beneficiaries of this mistake have been the Poughkeepsie property owners in Fairview, who paid less than their fair share. Apportionment of the fire tax levy in Fairview has been inequitable in all but one of the last eight years. This inequitable apportionment has sometimes favored Hyde Park at the expense of Poughkeepsie, but this reversal only partially offsets the unfair burden Hyde Park taxpayers have carried in recent years. In my view, this inequitable apportionment of the fire tax levy between Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie is in violation of New York State’s real property tax law. Responsibility for fair apportionment lies with the Fairview Fire District Board of Commissioners and its Treasurer. John Anspach, Fairview Fire District Board Chairman, assured me in a private meeting on August 4 that the problem of inequitable apportionment will not recur in the future.
Document #6

Calculate Your Own Unfairness

7Sep2008
Bill Rubin A web page allowing Fairview taxpayers to interactively calculate their own overpayments (Hyde Park) or underpayments (Poughkeepsie) from their recent property tax bills.
Document #7

Projected 2009 Fairview Fire Tax

12Oct2008
Bill Rubin A 14-page report comparing the projected 2009 Fairview fire tax with the corresponding 2008 fire tax. For Hyde Park properties whose assessed value is unchanged from last year, fire tax will decrease by 14.7 percent. For Poughkeepsie properties whose assessed value is unchanged from last year, fire tax will increase by 5.3 percent. For Poughkeepsie properties whose assessed value is decreased from last year, fire tax will decrease by about 5 percent less than property value has decreased. The reason that Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie taxes will change differently is that the 2008 tax levy apportionment was inequitable, in violation of New York State law, while 2009 tax levy apportionment is equitable.
Document #8

Fairview’s 2008 apportionment calculation

5Aug2008
Beverly Allyn

and

Bill Rubin
A 5-page memo to John Anspach, Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman, documenting a meeting on July 29, 2008, with Fairview Fire District Treasurer James F. Passikoff and Fairview Fire Chief Tory Gallante, at which Mr. Passikoff explained how he calculated the apportionment of Fairview’s 2008 fire tax levy between Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie. The authors found numerous problems with Mr. Passikoff's choice of assessed valuations and equalization rates. These problems do not derive from a single mistake, or even a few small mistakes, but rather from a large number of separate mistakes of reasoning.
Document #9

Public Budget Hearing on October 21, 2008

20Oct2008
Beverly Allyn A 1-page letter to John Anspach, Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman, commenting on Fairview's proposed 2009 budget. If it is the Commissioners intent to continue to contract with Mr. Passikoff as Treasurer, Ms. Allyn does not believe his work warrants increased compensation. Mr. Passikoff has made serious errors in the apportionment of taxes between Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie, causing the Hyde Park taxpayers to pay more than their fair share during 5 of the last 8 years.
Document #10

Responsibility for and legality of fire tax apportionment

23Oct2008
Bill Rubin A 1-page memo to John Anspach, Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman, responding to his assertions at the public budget hearing on October 21 that Fairview officials have not violated state law, and that other governmental bodies are to blame for the inequitable Fairview fire tax rates. Mr. Anspach justified these assertions as being based on advice from Bill Spampinato, attorney for the Fairview Fire District. I spoke with Mr. Spampinato on October 23. As I understand this conversation, Mr. Spampinato's advice to the Fairview Fire District cannot be used to justify Mr. Anspach's assertions. In my view, the interests of the Fairview Fire District and its taxpayers would be better served if Mr. Anspach stops insisting that the Fairview Fire District did nothing in violation of state law. There is no evidence to support this assertion, and considerable evidence to the contrary: Document #5 and Document #8.



Exempt Percent


Document #1 below justifies my claims about the official 2008 exempt percent. Document #2 confirms the main result in Document #1. Document #3 and Document #4 are referenced in Document #1, and are not readily available elsewhere on the web. Document #13 describes and corrects for the blunder by the Town of Poughkeepsie Assessor's office.

Why does the exempt percent matter? In the Spring of 2008, Sen. Saland sponsored a bill in the New York State Senate, intended to alleviate the burden on property taxpayers in fire districts with exempt percents of 70 or more. Unfortunately, we were not able to contact him before the bill was passed by the Senate in June, 2008. However, we were able to contact Assemblyman Miller in time for him to withdraw a similar bill in the New York State Assembly. We also contacted Legislator Doxsey in time for him to withdraw a resolution before the Dutchess County Legislature concerning fire districts with exempt percents of 50 or more. None of these bills would have benefitted the Fairview Fire District as intended, because Fairview does not meet the requirements of these bills for a high exempt percent.


Document
Originator
Description and Commentary
Document #1

Tax Exempt Properties in Fairview

18Jun2008
Bill Rubin A 25-page report analyzing Fairview's exempt percent. Abstract: Widely quoted figures put the percentage of Fairview’s tax exempt market value in the range of 70 to 80 percent of Fairview’s total market value. But the analysis in this report shows that Fairview’s exempt market value is only 42 percent of Fairview’s total market value, for the 2007 assessment roll. Furthermore, even with very liberal upward adjustment of exempt assessments, Fairview is unlikely to have an exempt percent exceeding 57 in the foreseeable future. Although the C.T. Male study done for the Fairview Fire District in 2006 has been interpreted as claiming a 77 exempt percent, my review of that study shows that interpretation to be mistaken, and that the study is actually consistent with my conclusions. A second document cited as supporting a 77 exempt percent for Fairview has been found to be unverifiable.
Document #2

Fairview Fire District- Exempt Property

7Jul2008
Kathleen Myers, DC Real Property Tax Director A one-page memorandum to the Dutchess County Legislature, simultaneously released to many local news organizations, as well as to officials of Marist College, Dutchess Community College, Dutchess County Government, Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman John Anspach, and many other interested parties. This four-sentence memo validates the primary result of my report Tax Exempt Properties in Fairview, that Fairview's exempt market value is 42 percent of Fairview's total market value. Ms. Myers wrote the memo in response to the following passage in the Poughkeepsie Journal's July 6, 2008, front-page feature story, Tax load shared unfairly, critics say:
  • Residents have argued the 4.5 square mile district is about 80 percent tax-exempt. Fairview officials said they're calculating the exact percentage for 2007.
The memo states “My office has previously provided assessment and exemption reports to ... at least one member of the ‘Fairness for Fairview’ group at their request.” That one member would be me, and the “reports” is the Cross Reference Report – 2007 – Prior Year File described below (Document #3). The memo uses the more precise figure, 41.7 percent, the same value as in my report (last sentence on page 7).
Document #3

Cross Reference Report – 2007 – Prior Year File

20May2008
Dutchess County Real Property Tax Service Agency (RPTSA) A 57-page report listing all 2224 parcels of property in the Fairview Fire District together with their 2007 assessed value and taxable value, prepared by the RPTSA, May 20, 2008, at the request of Bill Rubin. This document is a primary source of data for Tax Exempt Properties in Fairview.
Document #4

file dcfire05.exl-b10

2006?
unknown A one-page annotated listing indicating a 77 exempt percent for Fairview. This document is reviewed in Tax Exempt Properties in Fairview, and its contents found to be unverifiable.
Document #13

Fairview's 2008 Exempt Percent Understated due to Assessment Blunder

31Mar2010
Bill Rubin Post to blog Fire Tax in Dutchess County. A $120 million blunder by the Town of Poughkeepsie Assessor's office in 2007 caused the official 2008 exempt percent of 41.7 to understate the true exempt percent. The true figure is probably around 47.9 percent, very much in line with Fairview's 2009 and 2010 exempt percents. This blunder also greatly understates the contribution of St. Francis Hospital to Fairview's exempt properties. St. Francis is easily the second ranking tax exempt institution in Fairview, after Marist College.



Related Websites and Organizations

My Blog on Property Tax in Dutchess County

My blog, Property Tax in Dutchess County, contains relatively brief posts on fire tax issues and property tax issues in general in Dutchess County. The blog format allows readers to comment on any of my blog posts, the better for us all to learn more about the issues. The blog format also allows interested readers to subscribe to my blog posts. All major updates to the Fairview Fire Tax website will be cross-announced on my blog. That way, readers interested in either the blog or the Fairview Fire Tax website can receive automatic email notifications of updates.

Fairview Fire District Website

The Fairview Fire District website contains much useful information about the District. The Fairview Fire District is governed by a board of five fire commissioners, elected by the voters of the District in a special election on the second Tuesday of December of each year. The commissioners page of the website lists the names and terms of office of the commissioners, the time and place of the monthly public Board meetings, and the minutes of recent Board meetings. Other pages on the website contain additional useful information about the District and the Fairview Fire Department.

Fairview Professional Firefighters Local 2623

Fairview Professional Firefighters Local 2623 is the union of Fairview's career firefighters. Its comprehensive website contains much useful information about firefighting and emergency response operations.

Fairness for Fairview

The Fairness for Fairview advocacy organization was founded early in 2008 for the purpose of raising public awareness of Fairview Fire District issues.

Citizens for Equitable Fire Districts of Dutchess County

The Citizens for Equitable Fire Districts of Dutchess County (CEFDDC) advocacy organization was founded early in 2009 for the purpose of petitioning the Towns of Hyde Park and Poughkeepsie to dissolve the Fairview Fire District. Opposition to CEFDDC appeared to be more effective than CEFDDC itself, and CEFDDC soon became inactive.

What Is the Solution to Fairview's Problem?

As I see it, the problem of high fire taxes in Fairview is not fully understood. Still, there seems to be a convergence among many thoughtful people that consolidation of Fairview with other districts is the most fruitful long-term solution. Some of my reports investigate this.


Errors: I welcome any error reports, because they give me the opportunity to correct mistakes. You can communicate with me by email or otherwise. When I make a correction, I'll identify you as the one who found it, unless you prefer otherwise.