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Making your tax bills easier to understand

— No one looks forward to their tax bill, whether it is from the state, county or town government. However, having a concise, comprehensible bill would help alleviate some of the frustration of trying to understand where your tax dollars are being spent.

I recently co-sponsored a resolution to revise the form and content of the property tax bill to eliminate some of this confusion. As you know, Onondaga County issues the annual combined property tax bills to collect property taxes for the County and the various towns. In previous years, a portion of your property tax bill included a line labeled “State-Mandated Costs” and nowhere on the bill was there a line that said “County Taxes.” This has been a source of confusion for many years and will change with the 2013 property tax bills.

To understand why the “State-Mandated Costs” line first appeared on your tax bill, you must first understand the nature of state-mandated programs. New York State is unique in the way it requires individual counties to pay for programs operated by the state. Said another way, the counties are forced to pay for New York state’s programs without having any control over their content or cost. To give an example of how expensive some of these programs are, in 2012 Onondaga County taxpayers will pay over $104 million for Medicaid alone. This one program accounts for 70 percent of ALL the property taxes collected in Onondaga County in 2012! The amount charged to Onondaga County taxpayers for all of the state-mandated programs will be a whopping $175 million dollars this year. That is 118 percent of all property taxes collected in Onondaga County! The “State-Mandated Costs” line on your previous property tax bill was originally put there when the costs of these state-mandated programs started to approach 100 percent. This line was designed to highlight the fact that the county wasn’t actually spending this money on county programs. It was simply collecting it and sending it off to Albany to run state programs. Today, the biggest source of revenue for Onondaga County’s operations is the county’s share of local sales tax.

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