Former New York City officials demand property tax fix for business

Bishop spoke at a New York University panel ahead of Mayor Eric Adams’ budget presentation next week. Bishop was joined by Andrew Rein, the president of the Citizens Budget Commission, and Martha E. Stark, a former commissioner of the Department of Finance and a professor of public service at NYU.

Here are the main pieces of advice the panel had for the Adams administration concerning the city’s largest source of revenue.

Let’s be honest

Bishop called on the Adams administration to work with the City Council and Albany to carve out new transparency requirements for commercial leases, so business owners could no longer be hit with sudden rent increases in the middle of multiyear leases.

“The council is fixated on commercial rent control, but let’s figure out the truth and transparency about leases,” he said. “If you’re extending a lease to a business owner, you have to tell the truth to business owners about what stage you are at in your property tax payment.”

Quality control, please

Stark said the Department of Finance, which manages assessments, needs to do a better job from a quality control perspective. Officials must ensure there is some consistency and easier explanations to business owners, she said, as to how they arrive at different property tax values for comparative properties.

“I’d argue they’re not doing that well, at all,” Stark said. “Using quality control measures help people understand what they can plan for and expect in the future.”

One way the city could do this is by sharing with owners the comparable metrics used to determine assessed values, Stark suggested. She advised an education campaign to highlight the taxes small businesses pay as a percentage of either gross income or gross sales.

Take accountability

Stark and Bishop both lambasted the practice of reflexively tying projected economic growth to assessed values. Stark said Adams’ upcoming budget will likely continue this practice.

“That growth will mimic how much assessments have grown, and that is absolutely the wrong way for the city to decide how much revenue it gets from property taxes,” she said.

Stark suggested the mayor work with the City Council on determining a fairer and more uniform standard for Class 1 residential and Class 4 commercial properties.

She reminded the panel that assessors are not revenue raisers; they are supposed to set the base rate, and then it is incumbent on the mayor and the council to decide how much money to raise.