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Proposed NY property tax cap short-sighted solution

Governor Andrew Cuomo's property tax cap proposal could mean trouble for many school districts.

In the coming weeks, the governor plans to enter into legislation a cap that would apply to all school districts, as well as local governments. Designed to protect property owners from skyrocketing property taxes, the cap prevents an increase in any district's tax levy (amount raised through property taxes) above 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. However, with a 60 percent majority, residents have the ability to override the cap during budget elections.

While this is good news to property owners, district administrators find the solution shortsighted.

"A cap is a rather blunt instrument to control costs," said James Rodems, assistant superintendent for management services with the Baldwinsville Central School District. "It is an easy political fix to rising taxes. What it doesn't consider is the fact that some of these cost increases, especially pensions and health insurance, are outside of our control."

Other factors driving up costs are mandates imposed onto school districts by the state.

"I work with a very talented group of people to manage the effects of mandates on the district's educational programs. We have to comply with the various laws and that is what mandates are, laws," Rodems said.

District expenses such as facilities' maintenance and union contracts are increased by state mandates. For examples, the Tribourough Agreement requires expired union contracts to remain whether or not a new agreement has been negotiated, and the Wicks Law forces districts to have multiple construction contracts.

"It has been estimated [Wicks Law] increases a building project by 10 to 20 percent," Rodems said.

Other mandates include paying prevailing wages to outside contractors and pollution control compliance for buses, which adds $10,000 to the cost of every new bus.

The mandate issue has not gone unrecognized at the state level. In fact, Gov. Cuomo recently formed a Mandate Relief Redesign Team charged with reviewing existing unfunded and underfunded mandates imposed by New York State.

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