ELIZABETHTOWN - Why do we have to be the bad guys?
That was the question that county representatives asked during the monthly meeting of the Intercounty Legislative Committee of the Adirondacks, held at the Essex County government center Feb. 17.
The comments were made during a presentation on the budget and state issues by NYSAClegislative coordinator Kathryn Vescio.
"There's been discussion that there is a way to opt out of the two-percent tax levy increase, but if anyone were to do that, they would be pinned as the bad guy," George Canon, Newcomb town supervisor, said to the assembled town supervisors and county administrators.
"The state has made it so easy for them to come out looking like the hero," Dan Stec, chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors and Queensbury supervisor, said. "A county needs only a two-thirds vote to opt out of the cap in order to save an office of the aging or other vital, non-mandated program, which would be easy to get in order to save something like that. Then the state rides in and says we gave them a way to keep taxes down, but your local officials dropped the ball."
Stec said that the real problem lies in changing programs, not changing where the money comes from.
"Unless you fundamentally change programs, then you are just changing where the spending is coming from," said Stec. "Just pushing it from property taxes to income taxes is not going to help the taxpayer."
Essex County Board chairman and Jay town supervisor Randy Douglas agreed.
"We have programs that have received cuts and we are going to have to figure out how to make up that difference," Douglas said. "Right now, without changing anything and without the money that we are losing from the state, we are looking at a way more than two-percent increase in our tax levy."
Members of the committee brought up the need for state mandate reform, stating that the state would need to change programs in order for county and local governments to comply with new standards.
"When you look at the mandate relief committee, it's not a group that you would put together just for the sake of getting something done,"Bill Farber, chairman of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors, said. "It's a group that you put together to vete issues and to try and find out where there is room to make changes and where there isn't.
"We don't want to cap taxes, we want to cut them," Farber continued. "What you need is the mandate relief to accompany that."
Other supervisors asked why other taxes were not looking to be capped.
"With the increase on fuel, we are starting to have hardships in the North Country not only with gas but with fuel oil," Samuel Trombley, a member of the Clinton County legislature, said. "Why are we not talking about a fuel tax cap?"
Vescio told those at the meeting that this was the time to let their voices be heard.
"This is the chance to put all of the ideas out on the table," vescio said. "We are trying to bring a strong voice to the mandate relief council. Property tax relief cannot happen without mandate reform, so please keep the ideas coming."