PLATTSBURGH - The support for both sides of the property tax cap argument are being made known by local officials.
The North Country Chamber of Commerce issued a statement last week welcoming the announcement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders of an agreement on a new property tax cap for the state. In the statement, chamber of commerce president Garry Douglas called the legislation - which will cap property tax increases for local governments and school districts at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less - "a remarkable advance for homeowners and for job creation in the North Country and across the state."
"It's a firm cap that will have a very real impact in terms of controlling spending and taxes going forward," stated Douglas. "As the governor recently pointed out in Lake Placid, property taxes have become the biggest impediment to growth and prosperity in New York. We thank the governor for his extraordinary leadership, and the legislature for listening to their constituents."
Douglas further stated the chamber of commerce and its allies across the state will now turn their attention to the need for "meaningful state mandate relief" as a follow-up to the property tax cap.
However, not all are convinced the property tax cap is in the best interest of taxpayers as proposed and that mandate relief must be decided upon before legislation is agreed upon by the Assembly and the Senate.
County administrator Michael Zurlo expressed his concern with the legislation during a regular meeting of the county legislature May 25, calling it "a very emotional issue." The tax cap, said Zurlo, must include "meaningful mandate relief" in order to be successful.
"Mandate relief is not a part of this program," said Zurlo, referring to the most recent version of the cap proposed. "Supporters of the program indicate that this tax cap will lead to mandate relief. I certainly hope that's the case."
The majority of expenditures that are borne by local governments, said Zurlo, are ones mandated by the state.
In addition with limited revenues and "less than stellar sales tax receipts" in the last three years, a property tax cap without mandate relief will cost services and jobs, the county administrator warned.
"When revenues go down and expenses increase, that's an equation that does not balance," said Zurlo. "And, to get that to balance, there's going to be services within this county that are no longer going to be affordable."
The New York State Association of Counties has called on state leaders to assume the $2 billion county share of Medicaid for the 57 counties outside New York City, which is a stance Zurlo said he wholeheartedly supports.
"If the state took away our largest mandate - Medicaid - we could not only cap your taxes, we could reduce them in ClintonCounty by 60 percent,"Zurlo continued, adding the majority of states in the union have already done so. "In fact, only nine of a myriad of state mandates consume 112 percent of the county tax levy."
Under a property tax cap, Zurlo said the legislature would work "very hard" throughout its budget process to balance the burden on taxpayers with the services provided by the county.
"But, the services we provide, I can tell you now, are going to be affected and the people who provide those services are going to be affected," said Zurlo.