Cuomo visits West Haverstraw, urges counties to “think outside the box”

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATHY KAHN  

Cuomo addresses local officials and business owners

Andrew Cuomo came to the Village of West Haverstraw February 23 to meet an overflow crowd of elected officials, members of the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Corp. and business leaders at the village’s community center.

He outlined a plan to reduce New York’s crushing tax burden, the highest in the nation, touting the success of the tax cap he says has helped save property owners a combined $17 billion.

In the early 1930s, then governor Franklin Roosevelt’s FDR’s solution to rising taxes  was asking communities to shoulder costs together, sharing the purchase of equipment and other municipal services. Cuomo has resurrected FDR’s idea, asking New Yorkers to let their county executives convene local governments and put together consensus plans to share services, find efficiencies and reduce costs.

Under the plan, all towns and villages would submit their consolidation of services plans to the county executive, with the county legislature providing input. Those counties consolidating services—sharing heavy equipment purchases, sewer and water lines and other feasible ways would receive funding to match the savings achieved by local governments in the first year.

Mid-Hudson members of Regional Economic Development Council: Jim Taylor, Orange Cty; Jacki Leventhal, Sullivan Cty; Al Samuels and Dr. Cliff Wood, Rockland County, all members of the Mid-Hudson Regional Council (Photo: Kathy Kahn/RCT)

The voters will be the ones calling the final shots on putting county executives in charge of municipal consolidations—the proposal will be a referendum on the November, 2017 ballot.

Rockland has 102 local governments, 389 dump trucks, eight road building machines, 54 power shovels, 86 utility trucks, 47 different offices, 10 police departments and spent $3.9 for data processing and $5.4 million for legal services in fiscal 2015. Its property tax rate is the fourth highest in the nation.  While the median state income tax levy is $1,271, property taxes average nearly $10,000 a year in the county—that’s not including all the special “districts” (water, sewer, etc.) which also levy taxes. “Consolidation is the answer,” reiterated Cuomo.

“The two percent tax cap has helped enormously, and we’ve adhered to it in Albany,” said Cuomo, whose latest budget for fiscal 2017-18 is 1.4 percent increase over last year’s. “Still, this is not helping local homeowners. They need real relief, and consolidating services is one significant way it can be achieved. It saves everyone money and will help bring down the property taxes. We also need to see school districts getting on board with sharing services wherever they can, whether it is ordering supplies or buying equipment,” continued Cuomo. “Each county has so many towns and villages, and each one does not want to relinquish the reins….but the country is changing, times are changing and we must change with them.

“New York’s toughest challenge is its taxes and we are losing people because of it,” Cuomo also supports leaving the “millionaire’s tax,” set to expire at the end of the year, at the current rate of nearly 9 percent.  “If we lower the tax on households earning $2 million or more ($1 million for individual filers), we will lose $3 billion a year.”  He’s asked the Legislature to extend the tax at the current rate.

“The tax cap forced discipline,” said Exec Ed Day after Cuomo’s remarks. “We have a plethora of shared services. We share services for mutual aid with Bergen County. We are working with other county executives to get this in place. We can continue to find ways to consolidate. We need to include school districts in this conversation.  Schools represent two-thirds of the property tax.”

Orangetown comptroller Jeff Bencik likes the idea, “but implementation will be difficult. There are many fiefdoms not willing to relinquish any power.”

Legislator Harriet Cornell (D-Dist. 10) said she thinks Cuomo’s proposal is a good way to bring down taxes and get things done. “Now, it’s a matter of getting the individual towns and villages to see the advantages of sharing.”