MALONE - Most Franklin County legislators agree on an alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax relief proposal.
The board passed a resolution last week opposing Cuomo's proposal and in favor of a plan developed by the New York State Association of Counties.
Cuomo's $1 billion proposal would create a temporary two-year tax freeze program on residential property taxes to homeowners in counties based on two conditions: the county must remain under the 2 percent tax cap in its 2015 budget, and the county must continue to stay under the tax cap in 2016 and implement a shared services or government consolidation plan that yields savings equal to 3 percent of the aggregate property tax levy over three years. The state estimates these measures would provide an average tax rebate of $350 to 2.8 million homeowners.
County Manager Tom Leitz said he did the math, and the numbers don't match the state's estimate.
"My tax bill last year was $3,523.81," Leitz said. "If the governor's proposal went through, I would get a tax rebate of $70.48. That's 2 percent applied to the total. The governor's number, what he's talking about in public, is that the average homeowner would get $350. That might be the case in Suffolk County, where the property values are higher, but it isn't the case here."
Some legislators on the board also took issue with the requirement of consolidating resources.
"We won't get credit for the sharing we've done in the past, such as the highway department, emergency services and all these programs we've implemented with sharing between towns and villages," said board Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay. "We stretch the dollar up here quite a bit."
Legislator Guy "Tim" Smith, D-Fort Covington, agreed.
"It seems sad that we can't take the credit for the sharing we've done for years because, apparently, the state doesn't know we've been doing it," Smith said.
Leitz said another reason consolidation is difficult in Franklin County stems from the disparity between village and town employee salaries. Town employee contracts are typically for more money.
Leitz said he favors NYSAC's tax proposal because it is simpler and would save taxpayers more money. That plan would take the $1 billion surplus and put it directly toward programs the state already pays for like Medicaid, special education for preschool children or public defense for the indigent.
"If the governor took $1 billion off what the counties paid for Medicaid, that would reduce the tax bill by about 29 percent," Leitz said. "That same $1 billion, if they put it into shared Medicaid reduction, would reduce my tax bill by about $164."
Leitz said the NYSAC plan would benefit poorer counties because counties are required to pay about half their Medicaid costs. This results in poorer counties paying proportionally more.
The resolution to oppose the tax relief proposal passed, but two of the legislators said they couldn't get behind it.
Legislator Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake, said there is one aspect of Cuomo's proposal that he liked.
"There is the other part of the governor's bill called the circuit breaker, which I support," Maroun said. "I think the governor can come up with a better way to cut taxes than this. It's too complicated, but I don't want to go against something I support because I think the circuit breaker has a better formula for everyone involved, unless they make more than $200,000."
The property tax circuit breaker proposal would enable homeowners to pay an effective real property tax rate relative to income that exceeds their income tax rate. Households earning up to $200,000 would be eligible, and the benefit would be administered as a refundable tax credit against the personal income.
The credit would be available in areas outside of New York City, but only residents of jurisdictions that adhere to the property tax cap would qualify.
Legislator Barbara Rice, D-Saranac Lake, also said she couldn't get behind the resolution.
"It's the way that it's written," Rice told the Enterprise. "I don't think you're going to find an elected official anywhere who is going to say that we don't need to continue to work on property taxes. The way the governor wants to do it - I think it's way too complex - but the way this resolution is written, I looked at the NYSAC proposal, and I just don't have enough information. I don't know exactly how they'd implement their proposal, either."
Cuomo announced in a recent press release that more than 225 local officials in the state have supported his tax relief proposal. In the release is a chart in which "the following local leaders have joined the ranks of elected officials from around the State in calling for property tax cuts this year." The chart, unlike the press release's introduction, does not say those leaders specifically support Cuomo's tax relief proposal.
In the North Country, those leaders include Rice, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, Saranac Lake village trustees Tom Catillaz and Paul Van Cott, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas (of Jay), Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee, Tupper Lake village Trustee Rick Donah, Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston, St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Johnathan Putney and legislators Tony Arquiett, John Bunstone, Jason Clark and Don Peck.