Westchester Legislators Push for Bill to Tax Golf Courses More Fairly

Real Estate In-Depth | May 2019

From left, State Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Town of Ossining Supervisor Dana Levenberg, Senator David Carlucci, Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia and Assemblyman Tom Abinanti.

BRIARCLIFF MANOR—A group of state legislators and an advocacy group staged a rally outside of Trump National Golf Club Westchester here on April 28 in support of legislation to change how golf courses in New York State are assessed and taxed.

State Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester), Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) and other state and county lawmakers, as well as advocacy group Indivisible Briarcliff Ossining staged the rally in support of legislation (S.4420/A.6444) to change how golf courses are assessed. The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Senator Kevin Parker (D-WF-of Brooklyn) and in the Assembly by State Assemblywoman Galef.

The legislation gives a community the option to assess golf courses based upon their highest and best use, which would give local assessors a more accurate assessment of the property and prevent taxpayers and school children from subsidizing golf courses.

Currently, several golf courses in Westchester, including Trump National, are taking advantage of what Senator Carlucci calls the “Country Club Loophole,” and filing grievances with their local governments over their tax assessments, knowing under current law their private multi-million-dollar courses will be accessed like municipal golf courses, the lawmakers state.

“It’s simple, this legislation protects taxpayers and school districts from subsidizing people to play golf. I am working to lower taxes for New Yorkers, not burden them more when a golf course that is $250,000 or more to join is taking advantage of a loophole in the law to pay less in taxes. This legislation is not a state mandate, instead the decision is left up to local municipalities to change how they assess golf courses,” said Senator Carlucci.

Joining Senator Carlucci in support of the legislation were Assemblywoman Galef, Indivisible Briarcliff-Ossining, the Board of Education for Briarcliff Manor Schools, Town of Ossining Supervisor Dana Levenberg, Briarcliff Manor Village Manager Philip Zegarelli, Ossining Village Board Trustee Omar Herrera, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D- Greenburgh/Mt. Pleasant), Westchester County Legislator Catherine Borgia, and New York State Senator Peter Harckham (D-Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester).

“Two golf courses in the Town of Ossining are currently taking advantage of a loophole in the law in order to pay a lot less in taxes, shifting the burden to local residents. We cannot let this type of behavior go unchecked; taxpayers should not be subsidizing private golf clubs. This bill gives municipalities a leg to stand on if a golf course in their community is intentionally lowering the value of their property to reduce their tax burden. We want to ensure that golf courses pay their fair share of taxes just like the rest of us,” said Assemblywoman Galef.

“Taxes must be fair. Homeowners should not be required to subsidize private recreation facilities. This legislation gives local governments more options for balancing the taxes on different land uses,” said Assemblyman Abinanti.

Since 2015, President Trump has been engaged in a lawsuit with the Town of Ossining over the evaluation of Trump National. The Town assessed the golf course at $15.1 million, however President Trump said in his suit, the course is only worth $1.4 million, despite valuing it at more than $50 million on his public financial disclosure form during the 2016 presidential race. The lawmakers noted that President Trump is seeking to have his property tax bill cut from about $500,000 to $340,000 a year, and be paid back what he claims he has over paid in taxes. To pay the President back will cost the Town of Ossining 67% of the Briarcliff Manor school taxes previously collected, 18% of the Briarcliff Village taxes previously collected, and 15% of the Town of Ossining and Westchester County taxes previously collected will have to be paid back to the President. In 2008, the President took similar legal action against the Town of Ossining and won, having his assessment of the course reduced from $38 million to $16 million and leaving taxpayers to foot the difference.

The organizers of the rally also reported that Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the town of Ossining and The Apawamis Club in Rye are also seeking reductions on their property tax assessments at the expense of taxpayers. Sleepy Hollow Country Club since 2012 is seeking to reduce its assessment by 30% and shift about $450,000 to taxpayers, while $310,000 would have to be paid back to the club from Briarcliff Manor school taxes.

The Apawamis Club is seeking a 50% reduction in its taxes from $900,000 to $200,000.

While this legislation is not a state mandate, but a local opt-in for local municipalities, Senator Carlucci and Assemblywoman Galef believe it will make golf courses think twice about filing costly lawsuits to get out of paying their taxes.

The Westchester Chapter of the New York State Assessors’ Association support the legislation, they note.