Apr 15, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
The New York State Legislature finalized its annual budget recently, and local municipalities are not happy with a new “tax freeze” incentive included by the governor and retained by the legislature.
Elected leaders of all four municipalities in the Cazenovia Republican coverage area — Cazenovia village and town, Nelson and Fenner — as well as the county board of supervisors, all declared the move to be election year political theater that does nothing to benefit citizens, demands municipalities to take actions most of them already do and would cost citizens more than they would purportedly save.
“the ‘tax freeze’ is a gimmick with no meaningful tax relief but it is an unnecessary intrusion on the autonomy of local governments to serve their residents efficiently using their best judgment with their unique knowledge of local needs and circumstances,” said Cazenovia Mayor Kurt Wheeler.
Wheeler previously signed his name onto a petition by the Madison County Board of Supervisors — which includes the supervisors of Cazenovia, Nelson and Fenner — to the state “adamantly opposing” the freeze.
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “tax freeze” proposal would use state money to refund slight tax increases directly to individual homeowners but only if local governments keep tax increases to under 2 percent and make “serious attempts” to consolidate services. Cuomo said the tax freeze — or what his office has dubbed “an estimated $1.5 billion in homeowner tax relief” — would be a way to get local governments and schools to share services and thereby cut costs that would lead to lower taxes. The plan would also cut manufacturers’ tax rate to zero.
Cuomo called his property tax relief “the single most transformative part” of the budget. When Cuomo recently spoke in DeWitt, he said addressing New York’s high property taxes was the most important part of this year’s state budget negotiations. He said he believes that consolidation of all government units would, in the long run, save money.
On a conference call with reporters, Cuomo said the credit would be paid out in the form of a check to the property taxpayer.
The property tax freeze program is expected to generate more than $1.5 billion in property tax relief for nearly 3 million taxpayers, according to Cuomo’s office.
The budget, approved March 31, proposes $137.9 billion in spending, a 1.9 percent increase over the expiring fiscal year.
E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center, wrote in a New York Post opinion piece: “The premise behind what Cuomo calls a tax ‘freeze’ is that temporary rebates would give taxpayers an incentive to lean on local governments to reform themselves.”
The Madison County Board of Supervisors has estimated that under the governor’s tax freeze proposal, the average county resident will receive $6.85 in rebates, while the governor’s office has not explained exactly what the costs will be for paperwork, administration, postage and lost local autonomy.
Leaders of Madison County and Cazenovia area local governments all say they already work towards staying under the tax cap and have for years practiced municipal cooperation and cost-sharing.
“The village of Cazenovia has been doing a tax cap before the tax cap was cool. It’s called good government; it’s called good budgeting,” said Wheeler. He said the village tax levy rate has been an average 1.6 percent increase per year since 2005.
The village board, however, two weeks ago, approved its proposed $2.6 million budget with a 3 percent tax levy increase. This figure was decided upon due to the need to pay for state-mandates such as in state retirement system payments and insurance premiums, while also budgeting enough money to pay for needed local services, Wheeler said
“Ironically, [exceeding the tax cap] will probably save taxpayers money overall by opting us out of bureaucratic freeze procedures,” Wheeler said.
Cazenovia Town Supervisor Bill Zupan called the tax freeze “a political ploy” by the governor — “He wants his name on refund checks at election time.”
“At the town level we’ve been fiscally responsible for years, so there is no fat [left] to cut; we have to provide a level of service to taxpayers. If we go above the 2 percent, we go above the 2 percent as far as I’m concerned,” Zupan said. “When health insurance and retirements go up 8 to 10 percent a year, I don’t know how you stay under the cap. So it’s either cut snowplowing or quit road maintenance, and then you find 20 years down the road they fall apart.”
Nelson Town Supervisor Roger Bradstreet said that Nelson has lowered town taxes for the past four years until this year, and, like so many other municipalities is Central New York, has been partnering with other towns to create numerous efficiencies.
“Mandates placed on us by the State of New York are a major monetary burden to municipalities, and we fail to get the attention of Albany in this regard. Our county has voiced our disappointment with Albany, and understands that what residents hear doesn’t tell the whole story. The governor is sending a popular message to state residents and businesses but not offering relief to the towns and villages of New York State from Albany mandates,” Bradstreet said.
Fenner Town Supervisor David Jones called the tax freeze “ridiculous” and “frustrating.”
“I just don’t see where it’s doing a whole lot. I wish they did at the state level what they want us to do at the local level; we’d all be better off,” he said. “It’s just kind of comical: How much will it cost to implement the program to give us this $6.85? Probably a lot more. It’ll cost 50 cents just to send it … It’s the state wasting money again,” Jones said.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.