New York’s 2 percent property tax cap and a promise to provide relief from unfunded state mandates are welcome developments for beleaguered taxpayers. After years of neglect, New York State should be applauded for finally addressing the problem of rising property taxes.
This year local municipalities and school districts are being forced to make difficult choices to meet the tax cap, while the State Mandate Relief Committee holds hearings to determine what mandates should be eliminated.
Unfortunately, in their haste to curry voter favor, legislators got things backward. Mandate relief should have come before the imposition of a tax cap.
By instituting the 2 percent tax cap our towns, villages and schools have been forced to make drastic cuts that may not have been necessary had mandate relief come first.
An example is the gymnastics program at Ticonderoga High School. The sport, which served about a dozen students, has been eliminated by the district as its seeks to reduce taxes.
There has been no mandate relief at this point, but among the possible changes from the state is the elimination of each school’s “internal risk” audit. Schools are required to be audited several times a year. An “internal risk” audit is to designed to seek out fraud. School officials are confident any potential fraud can be uncovered by one of the other audits; they believe the “internal risk” audit is redundant, a waste of time and a frivolous use of taxpayer money.
The “internal risk” audit in the Ticonderoga Central School District costs $20,000 a year. That’s more than enough money to fund the gymnastics program — or a number of other programs.
If the “internal risk” audit mandate is removed, that money can go back to reinstate the gymnastics program, right? No.
The 2 percent tax cap does not allow for any serious budget growth. Once a program or service is cut, realistically, it’s gone forever. A municipality or school simply can’t add $20,000 to its budget and hope to stay within the constraints of the law. It’s a 2 percent tax cap while the United States inflation rate and cost of living index are both exceeding that level.
If mandate relief had come before the tax cap the “internal audit” could well be history and, perhaps, Ticonderoga gymnasts could still be competing.
Facing the 2 percent tax cap schools are making serious cuts — cuts that may damage academic, music, arts and sports programs. In Beekmantown there is a $3.2 million budget gap. In Ticonderoga there is a $1.7 million deficit. Schroon Lake faces a $600,000 spending gap.
Major cuts are necessary to reach the state’s 2 percent tax cap, cuts that will impact students and employees for the rest of their lives. Wouldn’t it be a shame to find out, after mandate relief, that some of those cuts were unnecessary?