Local officials: Keep the cap, but with modifications

| Sun Community News

PLATTSBURGH | State lawmakers must decide whether to keep the state property tax cap next year as they head back to Albany next year.

Local officials say they’re generally supportive of the framework that requires them to mindful of taxpayer dollars, but want to see some tweaks.

“I believe it does need some modifications, one of them being the penalty for the local municipalities as it relates to infrastructure,” said Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman.

Localities must hold spending increases to 2 percent or the rate of inflation. The cap can be overridden with a 60 percent supermajority vote.

But the fear of blowing past the cap, first implemented in 2011, de-incentivizes some localities from investing in infrastructure, Cashman said.

The Town of Plattsburgh was mindful of the cap when drafting their capital plan to improve water and sewer infrastructure, Cashman said, but there could come a time when officials will have no choice but to sail past the limit.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Shaun Gillilland agrees the cap “injects real discipline into the budget process.”

But the device can kneecap localities with limited tax bases, making them overly reliant on grants for large capital projects, which are becoming more competitive.

“All you’re doing is eating yourself because everything else is going up double-digit increases,” said Gillilland, citing rising health care, insurance and equipment costs.

“All of that doesn’t stay under the tax cap,” he said. “It’s making it harder and harder to have mechanisms to save capital for large purchases and keep your operating accounts frugal so that at the end of the year, you can have some extra money to go into your fund balances.”

‘PUBLIC SUPPORTS’

The North Country’s state delegation indicated they’ll vote to extend the cap, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo counts among his most treasured accomplishments.

“While some municipalities have struggled with it, frankly, property owners support the tax cap because it keeps taxes down,” said a spokesman for state Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay).

New York state already has some of the highest taxes in the nation, said state Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury).

“We need to do everything we can so it doesn’t get any worse,” said Stec.

But Stec said he was displeased renewal language is wrapped into a bill containing unrelated issues, which is one of the more frustrating things about state politics.

But he expects the legislation will be renewed.

“The public supports (the cap) and I’ll support it.”

Lawmakers head back to Albany next month for the start of the legislative session.

Democrats will have an outright majority in the state Senate for the first time in nearly a decade.

The Empire Center, a fiscally-conservative government watchdog, said the cap should become permanent, something that Republicans always wanted but could never accomplish during their control of the state Senate.

“Cuomo’s cap has curbed taxes by billions of dollars, compared to previous trends and especially in profligate school districts,” wrote Research Director E.J. McMahon last week.

But he said he’d be OK with another temporary extension.

“Pressing for yet another temporary extension of the measure — with absolutely no added loopholes that would allow school districts to skirt the cap — is the least the suburban Democrats can do to demonstrate their commitment to property owners,” he said.

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