Gov. Andrew Cuomo
Less than a week into the new year, the Essex County Board of Supervisors may already have a stiff challenge when it comes to staying with their budget plan.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo showed his fiscal hand two days prior to the annual State of the State address Jan. 6, proposing a two-year property tax free for residents as long as their political leaders keep budget increases within the state’s tax levy cap.
Under his proposal, tax credits would be given to residents of any municipality where the government stays within the cap in the next two fiscal years which would, in essence, freeze their tax rate.
“If they stay within the cap in year one, we will credit the residents of the locality for the two percent increase,” Cuomo said in his press conference. “In year two, the locality must stay within the tax cap and also must take steps to eliminate costs through shared services or consolidation.”
For 2014, Essex County increased their tax levy 13.35 percent, the first step in a five year plan to bring the county back to a balanced budget.
“I have not seen the whole thing yet so I do not have anything official to say on it,” County Manager Dan Palmer said when asked about the Cuomo initiative. “What I have always said, though, and my main problem with the tax cap is that it has nothing to do with the taxes that you pay. Essex County has a tax rate of $2.82 (per $1,000 assessed property value) and while Clinton County is over $6 and based on this year, their residents would get the credit.”
Palmer said the county has looked at ways to consolidate services, which is part of year two of the freeze.
“The real big elephant in the room for schools and towns is the consolidation issue, but it is still kind of a dirty word out there,” Palmer said.
Essex County Board Chairman Randy Douglas said in hindsight, maybe the county should have bit the complete bullet in their planning for the 2014 budget.
“What may have been better for us looking at it now would have been to do the 30-percent increase to get us back to a balanced budget this year and then we would be reap the benefits of the credit next year,” Douglas said. “What is frustrating is we’ve had seven years where we had a zero percent increase and we worked hard to share services and we have not received any credits for that.”
In his State of the County address Jan. 6, Douglas said the county has on average been under the two percent number that has become associated with the tax levy cap for the past 10 years.
“I know that he is trying to do the right thing,” Douglas later said about Cuomo’s plan. “In our towns we may very well be able to do it, but at the county I am not so sure until we are able to get this budget fixed.”
Cuomo said there are 10,500 different governments throughout the state of New York which is why consolidation is needed.
“Across the state everyone agrees with the concept, then they do nothing,” he said. “If you want the people in your district to get the tax credit, then step up and take concrete steps to save money through shared serviced or consolidation. If you do not want it then do nothing. But then the people in your district will not get the credit and you will have to explain to them why they did not.”
Cuomo said local governments should start coming together now to talk about sharing services.
“Get to a table now and find out what costs you can share,” he said. “Let’s cooperate, let’s collaborate and find out where there are some savings.”