On The Fringe Golf

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017, file photo, Looking south from the 16th fairway, the sun sets on the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, in Southampton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

The proposal targets a property owned by President Donald Trump's company, but it could impact golf courses in the Finger Lakes region and across New York. 

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblymember Sandy Galef would give local governments the authority to pass a law allowing golf course assessments to be based on the property's "highest and best use" instead of its current use. 

The lawmakers wrote in the justification for their bill that the highest and best use is defined as "the reasonably probable and legal use of vacant land or an improved property that is physically possible, appropriately supported, financially feasible, and that results in the highest value."

"For the valuation of golf courses only, it could be used by assessors, at local option, to provide a more accurate assessment of the property," the sponsors explained. 

Carlucci and Galef, both Democrats, are planning a rally later this month outside Trump National Golf Club Westchester, a course in downstate New York, to highlight their legislation and call on Trump to "pay his fair share of taxes."

The Trump Organization is in a legal dispute with the town of Ossining, Westchester County, regarding its property tax bill. Questions have been raised about the value of the property. 

When Trump filed his financial disclosures, he claimed the golf club was worth $50 million. The Trump Organization says it's worth $1.4 million. Both are far off from the town of Ossining's assessment, which is $15 million. 

While the proposal could affect Trump's course in Westchester County, it may also impact other golf courses across the state. 

State Sen. Pam Helming labeled the bill as the "golf tax." She worries that golf courses located in the Finger Lakes region or near Lake Ontario could face higher assessments because of their proximity to water bodies. 

Higher taxes, she continued, could lead some golf courses to close. 

A We Are Golf study found the sport has an economic impact of $5.3 billion in New York and courses have nearly 57,000 employees. 

"There's no question that everyone should pay their fair share of property taxes, but state government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers," Helming, R-Canandaigua, said. "To arbitrarily change the way properties in one particular industry are assessed is poor public policy and sets a dangerous precedent. It makes me wonder, what's next?" 

Golf course owners and managers in Helming's district said the change would have an adverse impact on their businesses. 

John Rossi, a PGA golf professional at Geneva Country Club, called it a step "toward putting us out of business."

"As contributing taxpayers to the local and state government, we at Geneva Country Club find this Golf Tax unnecessary and unfair, and we completely oppose it," he said. 

The bill has four cosponsors in the state Assembly, but none in the Senate. It was first introduced two years. It didn't receive a floor vote in either chamber. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.