ALBANY – More than 100 local officials from across the state have signed a letter criticizing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s latest property tax plan.
Lawmakers and groups representing various levels of local governments – schools, counties and others – raised concerns in recent days and weeks that Cuomo’s property tax freeze ignores rising costs of providing local government services, many mandated by the state but not paid for by Albany.
West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan, for instance, said her town and others across the state already struggle to live under the state’s tax cap while having to provide state-mandated services.
“For our municipality, we’re actually looking for greater communication with the governor and (relief) from unfunded mandates. That’s where we’re getting killed,” Meegan said in an interview.
The Democratic supervisor criticized a system in which Albany “is dictating to us” how to run localities without providing the payments for services the state requires.
“We would hope some of these mandates they forced on municipalities would get paid by the state,” she said.
The letter from local elected officials was organized by a coalition of groups opposing Cuomo’s plan, including the Working Families Party.
In a “Dear Albany” letter released Thursday, the local officials said governments across New York have been cutting police, fire and sanitation services in recent years, especially since Albany has reduced the level of state aid it provides localities over the years and the enactment of a 2 percent property tax cap several years ago that has slowed revenues, while mandated costs keep rising.
The local officials said the governor’s proposal “will only exacerbate the problems we face on a daily basis.”
“We do not believe the $1 billion property tax freeze as proposed in the executive budget is practical,” they wrote.
The governor’s plan will provide modest savings in the form of a rebate check to individual homeowners upstate. Upstate property taxes, when measured against income levels, are some of the highest in the country.
In the second year of the Cuomo plan, local taxpayers will get a property tax break from the state if their local taxing jurisdiction – school district, county, town – stays within the limits of the state’s annual property tax cap and submits a plan to share services, consolidate or merge with other nearby localities.
Localities, though, say that many already enacted shared-service agreements and other consolidation efforts in recent years and that those plans will not be grandfathered into the equation for the Cuomo property tax freeze.
The local officials said the main state revenue-sharing program for local governments across New York is down 75 percent since 1980 when adjusted for inflation.
“We urge you to reject forced property tax freezes and forced consolidation and mergers,” the local officials wrote.
Lawrence S. Schwartz, secretary to the governor, pushed back against the criticism.
“It’s clear that some local officials don’t want to be held accountable by taxpayers for staying within the cap and taking action to share services, reduce costs and lower property taxes,” Schwartz said in a statement. “Under the governor’s plan, local governments and schools will be responsible for taking the right steps to get their fiscal houses in order, much like the state has already done so.”
The letter was signed by county clerks and legislators, city council members, town supervisors, library board members, highway superintendents, city treasurers, a county comptroller and mayors, including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie A. Miner, whom Cuomo handpicked several years ago for the co-chairmanship of the State Democratic Party.
The officials who participated are from Western and Central New York, the Southern Tier, Long Island and the Hudson Valley.