OSWEGO, NY – A cadre of representatives from Albany, lead by Rose Harvey, the state commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, rolled into the Port City Thursday afternoon. They presented an overview of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State Address and fielded a handful of questions from city and county officials.
Oswego Third Ward Councilor Mike Todd said he agrees in principle with the state’s 2 percent tax cap; however, it’s not feasible for cities like Oswego, he said, since the state continues to hand down unfunded mandates that cost the city more than 2 percent.
“This year our revenues are going down, a 2 percent tax cap is impossible to hit. I agree with the concept of it, but it creates a situation that is just not attainable for us. We just can’t get to that,” Councilor Todd said. “I don’t think there isn’t anybody here in this building that doesn’t want to get to that. But for a city like Oswego or a city like Fulton, as distressed as we are, how do we get to that when there is no clear picture in the future on how we’re ever going to be able to increase the revenue to ever offset the costs?”
City officials don’t want to increase taxes, he said. But the state keeps piling on the manadates (and fees, such as the consent decree) that the city has to find a way to pay for, he added.
Lowering taxes is one of the governor’s priorities, the commissioner said.
“I know the governor’s very committed to trying to bring business here and he is succeeding in many places. It is the full notion of economic recovery, economic policies is multi-faceted. We will work together,” she said.
There are four areas of tax relief – business tax cuts, property tax freeze, property tax credit and estate tax reform, she said.
“The NYS income tax rate is 7.1 percent for most businesses. We’re going to cut it to 6.5 percent statewide,” she said.
New York State has the highest property taxes in the nation, she said.
“Three of the four highest taxed counties are in New York (Rockland, West Chester and Nassau. One, two and four,” she said. “As well, 13 of the 15 highest taxed counties, in terms of property taxes that are paid as a percentage of home value were in New York. Most of those are upstate (including Oswego County.)”
Why are our property taxes too high?
“We have too many governments,” the commissioner said. “We have 10,500 local governments. We have, essentially, tax districts, sewer districts, water districts, towns, villages and the notion is that we need to consolidate.”
“When you talk about consolidation, are you talking about consolidation of services between municipalities or within municipalities?” asked County Legislator Amy Tresidder.
“Between would be ideal, if there is a proliferation of municipalities within the same area,” the commissioner replied. “If there is not, then yes, it would be within.”
In the last three years, the state took over the growth of Medicaid to save $1.2 billion over five years, she said. They are also offering localities restructuring assistance for their finances.
Other assistance includes rebuilding the state’s infrastructure, creating a renters’ tax credit, a stronger focus on tourism as well as financial and technological support for education.
The state has seen a rise in economic development. It has added 380,400 new private sector jobs since 2010, she said.
“New York State is ranked number 2 in jobs created since the recession,” she added. “And, we have the most jobs in the history of New York State.”
Extolling tourism, especially in upstate, is paying dividends, she pointed out.
“It’s creating jobs. Tourism spending is up $4 billion, twice the national average. And tourism jobs increased by more than 25,000. That too is twice the national average,” she said.
This fall, the state will put a bond referendum on the ballot for a smart schools initiative.
It would invest $2 billion in providing “the technology of tomorrow now and make it available to all children,” she said.
Each district would submit a request to the state.
The state would also like to create a teacher excellence fund. Teacher who are rated highly effective would be eligible to receive $20,000 performance pay.
“The highest performing teachers will be cited by the state,” she told Oswego County Today. “It will be a state program.”
It’s unknown how many teachers might qualify.
The teacher performance evaluations are just starting to come in, she added.
Students in the top 10 percent of their schools would also get assistance with full scholarships to SUNY or CUNY colleges if they pursue math or science careers and work in New York for five years.
Patients with serious illness could soon be treated with medical marijuana at 20 hospitals around the state under the governor’s proposal.
He is also proposing tougher penalties for repeat DWI offenders and those caught texting while driving.
“We have much more to do to make New York healthier, fairer and safer,” she said.
“We support the governor. We’d like him to work with us and make some changes come through, things like the taxes are a bit too much to chew,” Mayor Tom Gillen said following the meeting. “As long as we have a dialogue going, he knows where we stand. We need help from Albany. A lot of these mandates are unfunded by the state, and the feds, and it hurts.”