By Barry Leemann, Chairman, Oswego County Legislature
We’ve all heard a lot of discussion about the high property taxes in New York State and the Governor’s proposal to cap the local tax levy. Many state lawmakers have also voiced their support for a local property tax cap.
A tax cap sounds like a good idea. But a better idea is to cut the costs that cause the high taxes in the first place! Just nine of the dozens of State mandates will cost the County $45.9 million in 2011 – that’s more than the entire property tax levy (123%). If the State would reform its mandate system, there would be no need for an artificial tax cap.
For decades we have been talking about the problem of unfunded state mandates, how they affect the cost of local government, and how they are passed on to the taxpayers. The Governor’s proposal to cap local taxes may sound enticing, but in reality it is just another example of the dysfunctional bureaucracy in Albany abdicating its responsibility.
Since 2004, despite the recession and increasingly expensive State mandates, and without the benefit of a state-imposed property tax cap, your Oswego County Legislature has managed to stabilize and reduce the county’s generic tax rate from $9.20 to $7.16 per $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed 2011 budget reduces the tax levy and the tax rate even further. This was accomplished through responsible financial budgetary actions and conservative policies adopted by the County Legislature – in spite of mandates by the Governor and the State Legislature.
Make no mistake… in order to stabilize and reduce taxes in the face of increasingly expensive State mandates, it’s the local services we all want (law enforcement, highway maintenance, economic development, health, etc.) and our savings and reserves that end up being cut back.
The proposed local property tax cap does nothing to reduce or eliminate the current State mandates. Furthermore, if State mandates cause a tax levy to increase over the cap, the proposal forces the local government to override the cap with a two-thirds majority vote. This proposal unfairly shifts the blame for tax increases to local elected officials when the tax increases are actually caused by the State.
Earlier this summer the Oswego County Legislature unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution urging New York State to significantly cut unfunded mandates before imposing a cap on local property taxes. Since then, several other county boards across the state and the New York State Association of Counties have adopted similar resolutions.
We should all agree that a valid property tax cap is needed and that tax relief is essential for all taxpayers. New York State’s Governor and Legislature need to take responsibility for the problems that have been created, provide a property tax cap that is more than smoke and mirrors, and not make meaningless political gestures that in effect shift the blame to local governments and shift the burden to local property owners.