T-Mobile has been ordered to pay property taxes on large cellular data transmission installations in a Westchester City, creating a new revenue stream.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore unanimously affirmed a decision by the New York Court of Appeals, which found that certain equipment such as cell towers are taxable in Mount Vernon. The decision will force T-Mobile to pay property taxes on several pieces of equipment, but could have wide-ranging implications moving forward.
According to the New York Law Journal, the ruling against T-Mobile is just one of the lawsuits the company faces for similar complaints. Other cases have been filed in Scarsdale, Manhattan, Long Island and several counties upstate.
“We’re very pleased with the decision and I think it is going to have a really big impact on municipalities because it generates some taxable property that I think has really been untapped,” Thomas Scapoli, an associate at Ingerman Smith in Westchester, who argued before the Court of Appeals for the Mount Vernon City School District, said to the New York Law Journal.
“It hasn’t been taxed by many assessors, so I think this is going to help develop some additional ratables by municipalities that haven’t been accessed so far. We’re very pleased with the decision and I think it is going to have a really big impact on municipalities because it generates some taxable property that I think has really been untapped.
"It hasn’t been taxed by many assessors, so I think this is going to help develop some ratables by municipalities that haven’t been accessed so far.”
According to Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Thomas, the case centered on the definition of "telecommunications equipment." T-Mobile owns large cellular data transmission equipment, such as antennas, cables, and "stealth walls" to shield them from view. The equipment is installed on the exterior of buildings around Mount Vernon and T-Mobile has multi-year leases with the building owners.
In her decision, DiFiore found that all the equipment included in its Mount Vernon installations fit into the definition of the state Legislature and was taxable. "Indeed, it appears that T-Mobile's equipment is precisely the type of property the Legislature intended to cover when it substantially revised the (the real property tax law) in 1987," DiFiore wrote.
Thomas said that Mount Vernon has "taken the lead in pushing tech giants to treat taxpayers fairly."
“The state Court of Appeals decision is a huge victory for taxpayers in Mount Vernon and around the state. By successfully arguing for common sense — that cell towers and other equipment can be taxed — Mount Vernon has established a long-term source of revenue that’s beneficial to its residents and all municipalities across the state. Taxpayers deserve to share in the innovations of technology and this decision protects that dynamic.”
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