posted on May 26, 2011 15:29
The New York State Legislature is preparing to pass a 2-percent property tax cap in Albany. But the Genesee County Legislature says Albany is not dealing with the real problem.
A state property tax cap would set a 2-percent cap on all property taxes in New York State. That means counties and school districts could only raise taxes 2-percent above the current level. Many local leaders say the cap would leave them with two options: finding other sources of revenue, which are rare; or cutting siginificantly from important programs.
Today, County Legislature sent a strongly-worded letter to the capitol, condemning the proposed tax cap, which they call “a state solution to a local problem, that was created by the state.”
Legislature chair Mary Pat Hancock says mandates are the real problem, not high taxes.
"Pension costs have gone up thirty-one percent," she says. "And in the past several years, Medicaid has continued to escalate in cost." Hancock has continually decried the Medicaid expenses, which she says are "forced" upon the counties. She and the Legislature called for the state to take the responsibility for Medicaid off of the counties' shoulders, where it has been since 1966.
"Certainly though, what we would like and what we will get are two different things," she says.
Hancock also reiterated that her concern has never been making it under a tax cap, because she believes county residents can't shoulder any more tax burden.
"If we were relieved from the mandates, we would even be able to lower our tax rate," she says.
Meanwhile, school officials are also decrying the proposed cap, and have been ever since state education aid began a precipitous drop last year. Batavia City Schools' Business Manager, Scott Rozanski, sees dark days ahead under the cap.
"In essence, it means we could only increase our expenditures by about $350,000," he says. "Cutting more is do-able, but it would probably create a lot more uproar." Rozanski did point out that the public could vote in favor of a tax increase higher than 2-percent, if they so choose. "They would be voting on the revenue portion of the budget, instead of the expenses like they are this year," he said.
Superintendent Margaret Puzio chooses not to rely on the public to increase their own contribution, though. She's holding out for an increase in state aid.
"The only reason we're looking at an increase in the tax levy is because our state aid was cut," she says. Asked how optimistic she was that state aid would increase, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being very optimistic, Puzio put herself at about a 6 or 7.
"I've heard the plan is for it to go up, slowly," she says. "But there's no question about it: we have to look for ways to do things less expensively."
Local State Senator Mike Ranzenhofer has been a vocal supporter of the tax cap. Appearing in Batavia today, he said we may be putting the cart before the horse – but the state must institute the cap.
"The cap needs to be passed by both houses," said Ranzenhofer. He also expressed support for Hancock's proposal that the state assume Medicaid costs.
"I was a county legislator for twenty years. I understand that issue," he said. "I'm also very concerned about overuse of the Medicaid system by some, to the detriment of others. I'm talking about not having every possible optional service that you can have.
"People move here and travel here, in order for our citizens to pay for their healthcare, even though they're not citizens of our state."
Ranzenhofer is hoping that new work on a biometric technology bill will at least help cut down on Medicaid fraud, by creating an electronic fingerprint and/or DNA record of each Medicaid recipient.
The County Legislature, meanwhile, warns that a property tax cap with no mandate relief could lead to reductions in road and bridge maintenance, police protection, veterans services, and other important community programs. Mary Pat Hancock says that's not a fear argument – it's the reality.
"Those services are the only local items that are not mandated," she says. "And those local initiatives are not fringe items – they're things local governments have always done.
"It's not fear. I wish it was. But it's the reality."