North Country towns and villages are struggling to deal with the requirements of the 2 percent property tax cap Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in June.
As a result, many government leaders report their budgets will require cuts and they need mandate relief.
The tax cap is set at 2 percent or the average of the national consumer price index (CPI), whichever is lower. The cap could be overridden by a 60 percent vote of a governing body.
Unfunded and underfunded mandates include legal requirements that a local district provide a program, project, or activity on behalf of the state or federal governments.
A day-long tax cap training event hosted by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office was held Aug. 25 at SUNY Plattsburgh. Supervisors from the towns of Keene, Minerva, Ticonderoga, Plattsburgh and Peru said before press time they planned on attending. The mayor of Lake George said he was not personally attending, but two of his representatives were.
William Ferebee, supervisor of Keene, said the cap definitely will affect his town, though he wasn’t sure yet if it would require budget cuts.
The state comptroller’s guidelines regarding the cap, according to Ferebee, have so far not been clear “at all.”
What if, for an unseen reason, Ferebee said, the town had to hire a lawyer, the cost of whom would place the budget over the tax cap? What would the town do?
“Really we don’t know the ground rules yet,” Ferebee said.
Keene employees haven’t seen a pay raise in three years, and in order to grant a pay raise, Ferebee said he’d need to cut from unmandated programs.
“I’m opposed to the cap,” Ferebee said. “If there was a cap on state mandates, that would be a different story.”
Minerva Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey said the tax cap would require cuts in her town, but she wasn’t sure where in the budget.
“Everything needs to be reviewed,” Montgomery Corey said.
The Minerva supervisor said she thought the idea of managing costs was a good one, but living with a cap without mandate relief is “going to be tough.”
Ticonderoga Supervisor Debra Malaney said cuts were inevitable in her town because of the tax cap. She’s asked all departments to find at least 10 percent cuts in their budgets.
“Everything is on the table,” Malaney said.
Still, the Ticonderoga supervisor said she supported the cap, seeing it from the perspective of both a homeowner and a municipal leader.
“People need relief from taxes,” Malaney said. “We need to be able to afford to live here.”
The Ticonderoga supervisor said she wanted to know what a town was supposed to do in the unforseen event infrastructure is broken, and fixing it would put the budget over the cap.
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Bernie Bassett said he was optimistic cuts would not be required from his budget as a result of the cap.
“We’re a lean, mean machine,” the Plattsburgh supervisor said. “We operate very frugally.”
Still, he wasn’t certain Plattsburgh would escape cuts due to the town’s lack of a general tax, and because some of the details of the cap remain unclear.
Bassett had mixed feelings about the cap, saying it represented a “broad-brush” approach.
“The tax cap is there for good purposes,” the Plattsburgh supervisor said. “The motive, the incentive, has merit. The question is ‘Can we do it?’”
While Bassett believes Plattsburgh can, he isn’t so confident about other towns.
Peru Supervisor Peter Glushko said he didn’t think the 2 percent cap was going to represent a hardship for his town.
“We are in no way anticipating that we’re going to exceed that,” Glushko said, adding that taxes have been decreasing or staying level in his town for the past two years.
The Peru supervisor described his position on the tax cap as “qualified support.”
“They have to really start tackling these unfunded mandates that come down,” Glushko said.
Village of Lake George Mayor Robert Blais said the cap would require cuts in his budget.
Lake George committed to a $3.1 million improvement to its wastewater treatment plant and pump station, which will eat up a large portion of the shrunken budget.
As a result, the village will have to consider employee layoffs and holding fewer tourist events such as fireworks and park concerts, Blais said.
The Lake George supervisor said he was opposed to the tax cap so long as it was not balanced with mandate relief.