By Debra J. Groom
In his 2014-15 state budget presentation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will provide $1 billion for property tax relief.
At a recent Oswego County Legislature meeting, Oswego County Administrator Philip Church broke down the proposal on what it would mean for Oswego County residents.
In a 13-page analysis, Church said there are many unanswered questions as to how this tax relief will work and how it will be funded.
He said using the county’s tax levies (the amount raised by taxes) for operations, community college and workers compensation, residents with an average Oswego County home valued at $94,500 would receive a rebate of about $16.
And because the tax relief would affect all taxing jurisdictions (county, town, city, village, school districts), the full rebate would be less than $74.
This would be a two-year rebate, Church said.
He believes the state should take the money Cuomo wants for tax relief and instead of one-time rebates, put it toward permanent mandate relief.
This mandate relief would be reducing the cost of programs the state makes the county pay each year. Church said this would help taxpayers by reducing their property tax burden permanently.
“Many counties and the New York State Association of Counties are proposing this alternative method to provide property tax reductions to New Yorkers,” Church wrote in his analysis.
“The alternative consists of the state taking over the costs of four of its own programs: Medicaid, indigent defense, preschool special education and Safety Net,” he said.
Church said if the state paid for these programs, the reductions to the average Oswego County taxpayer’s bill would be about $514.
He also believes if the state pays for the programs itself, it would be forced to reform services.
Other problems with Cuomo’s tax rebate plan, according to Church:
** It is only temporary
** Rebates are reportable as income on federal income tax returns, “diminishing the overall financial benefit,” he writes.
** The cost of implementing the rebate program isn’t known. Church said the state will use tax levy data to compute the rebates and “the bureaucracy needed to collect, record and organize all tax levy date in the state” and then determine each homeowner’s eligibility and tax rebate will be large and a large cost to taxpayers.
** The state is operating now on tax levy data from 2012, stating this is the most recent data the state has. “How will the state be able to calculate rebates on a current year tax levy with any reasonable assurance to taxpayers that is was done accurately and fairly?” he writes.
** For homeowners to receive a rebate in the second year, the county must develop and submit plans to the state by June 2015 concerning consolidation and shared services. The county cannot use in its plan any consolidations or shared services it has already completed. He estimates Oswego County would have to come up with about $7.2 million in savings through its consolidation/shared services plan if all tax jurisdictions in the county participated.
** In order for a municipality to participate in the tax freeze rebate program, it cannot adopt a precautionary waiver of the state’s 2 percent tax cap. Oswego County adopts the waiver each year due to the ongoing tax status negotiations with Entergy for the FitzPatrick nuclear plant in Scriba.
Without the waiver, taxpayers could be left having to come up with millions of dollars in penalties if a tax settlement for Entergy greatly changed previous years county tax levies.
So participating in the tax rebate program would pose a large risk for Oswego County, Church said.
Legislature Minority Leader Michael Kunzwiler, D-Oswego, said he believes Cuomo’s idea to push for more shared services and consolidation is good, especially as it get more people talking about the issue.
“If this stirs things up, that’s good,” he said.
He disagreed with Church’s emphasis on state mandate relief, stating Church for too long has been singing this same song.
“Phil has to stop pointing the finger and srart looking in the mirror,” Kunzwiler said. “Phil’s top worry is about what the state is doing — instead we should start cleaning up our own house.”