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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Canajoharie, NY ,
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Counties devise tax reduction strategy

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - Updated: 9:24 PM

By CAROLINE MURRAY

For the C-S-E

Fact -- New York State has the highest real property taxes in the nation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget proposal focuses on cutting property taxes by implementing a "tax freeze," and providing tax rebates to eligible homeowners.

Although local officials agree property taxes need to be lowered, not everyone is on board with Cuomo's plan.

The New York State Association of Counties has drawn up a different proposal that concentrates on mandate relief, rather than the concepts Cuomo's budget outlines.

"The counties' plan was developed as a better alternative to the temporary freeze proposal in Governor Cuomo's 2014-15 Executive Budget," Fulton County Administrator Jon Stead said.

Cuomo's proposal will provide tax rebate checks to homeowners based on whether municipalities reach cost-cutting and shared service goals. If local governments and school districts do not meet Cuomo's agenda, homeowners will not receive the rebate.

The second part of Cuomo's plan is known as the "circuit breaker" and would provide rebate checks based on an individual homeowner's ability to pay their taxes.

Homeowners with qualifying incomes of $500,000 or less, who live in a jurisdiction that stays within the state-imposed property tax cap, will receive a rebate. The plan is designed to relieve homeowners who live in areas with the highest property taxes in the state.

The program is valued at almost $1 billion and would benefit almost 2 million homeowners.

NYSAC believes that parts of Cuomo's plan are "convoluted," and their proposal is "simpler" and a more "fair" resolution to the property tax burden.

The association believes the state could instead use the $1 billion in the proposed state spending to restructure how the state pays for programs such as Medicaid.

Stead said the plan would cut Fulton County property taxes by 23 percent, with similar savings in other counties throughout the state.

Stead fully endorses the association's push toward mandate relief instead of Cuomo's tax freeze proposals.

"Neither proposal addresses the high cost of mandates on property tax payers so I think that is our concern," Stead said.

Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort does not have a position on either proposal, but said it is encouraging that property tax relief is on the forefront of the state's agenda.

Ossenfort said currently, he is working on addressing the consolidation of services on a local level with the dissolution of Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority, and intermunicipal agreements with Fulton County for the Regional Business Park.

Ossenfort said that by working with Fulton County on these initiatives, it will save tax payers money.

"We have more control of that than what goes on in Albany, so I am focusing my efforts on the local level," Ossenfort said.

He said that NYSAC is working hard to advocate for the counties on tax relief, which is their job. Ossenfort believes the single best way to lower property taxes is to reform unfunded state mandates. However, he said mandate relief and tax relief can be represented in two different pieces of legislation.

"They are both valid approaches," Ossenfort said. "I want to stay away from the Albany politics and focus here locally and that is where we can make the most ground ... hopefully we can save some money on post closure management and working with Fulton County as far as waste disposal," he added.

The state budget is due April 1 and Stead said he hopes mandate relief is discussed between the state Assembly and the Senate as they debate the rebates.

Stead said the "circuit breaker" aspect of Cuomo's initiative is a better approach to cutting property taxes because it is less complicated than the other rebate plan.

However, he said mandate relief would be a more permanent resolution to the property tax issue.

"Both sides of the legislature have serious concerns about the governor's so called freeze proposal, but I haven't seen if anyone is moving on addressing mandates," Stead said.

     

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