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June 16, 2015 - 11:11am
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes.

Press release from County Manager Jay Gsell:

As New York State prepares to renew or make permanent the cap on local government property tax levies, a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts highlights why local property taxes in New York State are so high.  The problem has little to do with local governments and won’t be solved by a tax cap.

The Pew Trust data show that an average state receives about 2 percent of its revenue as transfers from local governments. In New York State, the number isn’t 2 percent. It is 15. Over one-seventh of the State’s revenue comes from local governments.

As the Pew report notes “New York got more of its revenue from local funds (15 percent) than any other state. Among those states that require local governments to pay for part of the health care costs incurred by Medicaid patients within their jurisdictions, New York’s local governments make a particularly large contribution.”

Simply put, New York State has shifted over one-seventh of its costs to local governments, which must then raise property taxes to pay those bills. Rarely has the disparity between New York and other states been so clearly presented, and the mystery of high local property taxes so effectively explained.

Clearly, the problem of high property taxes in New York State will not be solved by a permanent tax cap, or rebate checks, or by Albany conjuring up false images of wasteful local governments.

A real solution depends on the State acknowledging and addressing what is shown with such elegant simplicity by the Pew Charitable Trust's analysis – that the State has shifted 15 percent of its own costs to local governments. When that local property tax subsidy of the State budget ends, so will the era of high local property taxes in New York State. Albany, the next move is up to you!            

February 23, 2015 - 2:47pm
posted by Leslie DeLooze in library, taxes, tax assistance, tax filing.

Tax season is here. Richmond Memorial Library, 19 Ross St., Batavia has partnered with volunteer auditors from the New York State Department of Tax and Finance to offer income-eligible citizens (earning up to $60,000) assistance with filing their taxes online.  Auditors are available most Saturday mornings from 9:30-1:30, Mondays from 2:00-7:00 pm, and Wednesday from 12:00-5:00 pm from now through April 13.  To schedule an appointment, call the reference desk at (585) 343-9550 x 3.

December 29, 2014 - 4:20pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes, economy.

The drop in gas prices may be great for your pocketbook, but it's costing Genesee County, and other local governments, a bit of money, though the precise amount of lost revenue is dependent on how the local economy does in other sectors.

County Treasurer Scott German's back-of-the-envelope calculation is at least $500,000 in lost sales tax revenue for the county and another $500,000 distributed among the county's other municipalities, based on current gas prices.

Officials, however, expect much of that drop in revenue to be offset by increased local sales and a seemingly growing local economy.

Since the county already budgeted for a $300,000 drop in sales tax, said County Manager Jay Gsell, any decline in gas sales tax will be a soft blow.

"The level of consumer spending and consumer confidence being up in last quarter of 2014 and new retail opportunities in late 2014 and 2015 could also help stave off fuel sales decline estimated by the county treasurer," Gsell said. "Sales tax projections are not an exact science and statewide figures during 2014 have been all over the map and inconsistent."

German said there are so many variables in sales tax, it makes it hard to predict revenue, even though the sales tax on gas is a nice chunk of change for local governments.

"Who would have thunk back in August that we would be paying less than $3 a gallon for gas around the holidays?" German said.

There is a delay in transfer of sales tax revenue from the state to the county, so determining the exact amount of the revenue decline isn't possible just yet, German said.

Most of the local fuel sales is from travelers on the Thruway and fuel prices could also increase the number of travelers on the Thruway, thereby increasing gross sales tax revenue.

The county -- with its fleet of snow trucks, maintenance trucks and patrol cars -- will realize some cost savings on its own fuel expenditures, but it's too soon to get those numbers, officials said.

Batavia City Manager Jason Molino said that while sales tax accounts for 18 percent of all sales tax revenue, he's planning on either a slight increase or flat sales tax revenue.

"That's got to have an impact when one-fifth of your sales tax comes from fuel sales," Molino said, but there's also an upside to lower fuel prices that will help boost revenue.

"I was out on the west side of town before Christmas and the parking lots were packed," Molino said.

An informal survey of a handful of The Batavian's advertisers found a universal sentiment that these stores had a strong holiday sales season.

German said the impact of holiday sales won't hit the books until April. Before then, it's not possible to put a number on how well the county did in November and December, at least according to sales tax figures.

Molino said the county's low employment rate combined with one of the strongest growth rates in real wages in the state is helping to offset any drop in gas sales tax revenue.

"How long prices are going to stay ... at this low level is the bigger question," Molino said. "There's no real answer to that question. It would be nice if there was some price stability."

October 9, 2014 - 3:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, taxes.

Enough robbing Peter to pay Paul. Maybe its time to send a little cash back Peter's way, county legislators suggested during a budget session Wednesday afternoon.

County Manager Jay Gsell's early-stage draft budget calls for a reduction of the county's property tax rate from $10.04 to $9.85 per thousand.

After years of diverting sales tax revenue to balance the general fund budget, maybe the county should replenish the "1-percent fund," Legislator Bob Bausch suggested, followed by words of agreement from legislators Ed DeJaneiro and Frank Ferrando.

The 1-percent fund was created following an increase in the county's share of the sales tax in 1996 to help fund the county court complex.

From that point forward, that 1 percent cut of sales tax was supposed to go to a capital reserve fund -- money in the bank for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

But in recent years, as a stagnant economy caused tax revenue to sag and out-of-control state mandates put unrelenting pressure on the county's ability to fund basic programs, a portion of that 1-percent fund has been diverted into the general fund.

Meanwhile, roads and bridges continue to age and deteriorate.

"If we have some more money this year, I would kind of like to see that replenished and do some more capital projects, because as the residents of the county know, between the highways, bridges and roof and general capital budget items, we have fallen somewhat behind," Bausch said. "...if at all possible, I would like to see us address some of those issues if we have some extra revenue."

Through the typical budget process, department managers from throughout the county submitted their funding requests for 2015. 

Requested spending topped $27 million, which would have required a tax rate of $9.96 per thousand of assessed property value.

Gsell made cuts and reduced the recommended levy to $26.8 million, requiring a tax rate of $9.85.

The reduction in proposed spending is possible, Gsell said, because of sound fiscal management over the past 20 years, negligible staff growth the past couple of years, and the state capping how much it expects the county to contribute each year to mandated programs.

Mandates still eat up 82 percent of the county's revenue, but at least the figure isn't growing the way it has in years past.

"The state has capped Medicaid at $9.9 million, and that's great, but in every other state but one, counties don't pay anything for Medicaid," Gsell said. "If I could take $9.9 million and tell the State of New York, 'you pay for Medicaid, you control the program, you write the rules, you tell us (what) we can't do as far as reforming a local version that doesn't exist,' then I could say our tax rate goes down by 38 percent. It's not going to happen, at least (not) the way the State of New York is thinking at this point."

With less spending pressure on the county budget, though, Bausch and other legislators are saying, let's review capital funds a little further.

"We can't keep telling people your bridges are going to fall down, but we're going to cut your taxes," Bausch said.

DeJaneiro said he knows it's not an issue in his district (a portion of the City of Batavia), but he knows there's been an issue elsewhere with school buses and fire trucks being unable to pass over bridges because of structural deficiencies. Andrew Young and Bausch both said those have been issues in their parts of the county.

"Bridges are reality and people not getting an ambulance on time or a fire truck on time because of a bridge is something we should be concerned about," DeJaneiro said.

Ferrando agreed with the general sentiment.

"We should replenish the fund when we have a year where we have an opportunity," Ferrando said. "We should consider it."

Gsell was asked to prepare a report on the fund and provide more information to the Legislature.

Also discussed during the budget session was female prisoner transport. It's an expense that is continuing to rise and also takes a deputy or two off patrol at a time.

Gsell said options including having corrections officers transport female inmates, or hiring a private contractor who can provide licensed and bonded security officers for transport.

A few years ago, the Sheriff's Office would have seven or eight female inmates housed at the jails in Orleans, Wyoming or Monroe counties. Now there are 19 or 20 women in the county's inmate population at any one time, all needing transport occasionally to and from the county for court appearances or meetings with attorneys. But adding to the cost burden is the fact that some inmates are now housed as far away as Allegheny County and Wayne County.

Because of behavioral issues, certain inmates are no longer accepted by closer, neighboring counties.

Nothing was settled Wednesday on how to resolve the issue.

July 10, 2013 - 2:09pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, taxes, Bob Miller Flight School.

On July 2, we published, Aviation school owner says NYS Taxation and Finance driving him out of business. At the first opportunity the next morning, we sought comment from the NYS Taxation and Finance. After much unnecessary wrangling, we received answers to the following questions from the department's spokesman, Geoff Gloak.

Is Miller's general assertion true that the state has reinterpreted rules regarding sales tax on planes leased to flight schools? 

No. Any charge that DTF has suddenly reinterpreted rules regarding sales tax on planes leased to flight schools is inaccurate. There hasn’t been any recent change in the Tax Law on this matter, nor any court decisions we’re aware of that affects the matter. We have always taxed aircraft rental for flight training.

Is it true that over the past 40 years, there has been no sales tax on private planes used by students at flight schools and now there is?

No. An aircraft purchased for flight school training is not, and has not been, exempt from New York State sales tax. There has been no change in practice here.

Is it true that auditors are demanding payment of back taxes from plane owners for up to five years?

Your question seems to suggest that there’s some systematic campaign against people who own airplanes – and any such charge is categorically false. Our focus when it comes to audits is always exactly the same: Was tax due, and was it paid? This is the case for any business, in any industry.

Is it true that auditors are systematically going around to the state's flight schools and looking at whether sales tax has been paid on student's flight hours?

No. That's incorrect. There hasn’t been any change in our audit procedures, which is to examine in some form every tax return filed with the State – whether it’s personal income, corporation, or sales tax. That has been and continues to be our standard audit posture. 

If these assertions are true, what is the rational by taxation and finance? Not applicable.

Is taxation and finance concerned that private plane owners are choosing to end their association with flight schools because of this allegedly new enforcement?

There isn’t any “new enforcement.” Our goal is and always has been to help taxpayers understand the laws and regulations and to enforce those laws and regulations across the board in a fair and equitable manner.

July 2, 2013 - 10:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, taxes, Genesee County Airport.

The way Bob Miller sees it, before long, if you want to learn to fly, you will need to go to Pennsylvania or Ohio because there will be no flight schools left in New York.

"The state is holding all the cards on this," Miller told members of the Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

Within the past year, NYS Taxation and Finance has started auditing the owners of airplanes that are used as rentals for flight school students.

The state is demanding payment, Miller said, of taxes that were once exempt.

According to Miller, he can't legally charge students tax for their flight hours, but when private plane owners rent their planes to flight schools, the state is now demanding the owners pay sales tax on those fees.

As a result private plane owners who have been audited by the state will no longer rent their planes to flight schools.

More than two months ago, plane owners in Lancaster were audited and Miller was forced to close his school there. Now the state has gone after Batavia plane owners and he must shut down his aviation school here.

"It's not a new law," Miller said. "It's a new interpretation. The executive branch is holding all of the private airplane owners hostage to their interpretation of the code."

According to Miller, this hasn't been an issue in New York for 40 years, and certainly not during the 20 years he's been involved in aviation instruction.

"The state is so desperate for sales tax revenue they're going after everything," Miller said.

Currently, according to Miller, investors buy airplanes without sales tax if they are renting the planes to flight schools. If the planes are rented to private pilots who are not students, then the owners must pay sales tax; if the owners take the planes on a flight for their own private use, they must pay a portion of sales tax for the usage, but for 40 years, there's been no sales tax, he said, on student rentals through flight schools.

The state is requiring plane owners to pay for past unpaid sales taxes going up to five years back.

As a result, Miller said, the plane owners are just ceasing rental services to aviation schools in the state.

Miller has a lease for hangars and office space in the Genesee County Airport through 2015 and he's being asked to be let out of the lease because he's now out of business as a result of the state's actions.

Highway Superintendent Tim Hens recommended the Legislature require Miller to pay rent for 90 days, giving the county time to find a new tenant.

Hens said he isn't worried about filling the hangars -- there's a waiting list for hangar space, but he isn't sure the office space in the terminal will be filled, especially since it will be hard to find another filght school under the current circumstances.

The county will lose about $2,400 a month $2,700 per year in revenue with the flight school closed, due to a decrease in aviation fuel sales.

June 10, 2013 - 4:28pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in GCC, taxes, Andrew Cuomo.

The language of the proposed law that would create "Tax Free New York" has been released. It articulates how tax free zones would be created on SUNY campuses, as suggested by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Genesee Community College would be among the state's colleges that could potentially host tax-free zones.

In order to foster entrepreneurial businesses, especially in tech fields, Cuomo hopes the proposal will lead to start-ups and business expansions on college campuses.

Highlights:

  • Colleges would apply for use of vacant space on campus or on property owned by the college and within one mile of the campus with space allocated to business not to exceed 200,000 square feet.
  • The state could also select up to 20 strategic locations of currently vacant or soon to be vacant state buildings for tax-free zones.
  • The college must demonstrate how a business located within a zone would align with or further the academic mission of the college.
  • In its application, the college must discuss whether the business in the tax-free zone would compete with a business in the community, but outside the tax-free zone.
  • Businesses would be required to create new jobs and pay employees prevailing wage in accordance with the Labor Law.
  • The tax exemption would last for 10 years and in order to maintain tax-free status, a business must retain the new jobs it created or face sanctions.
  • Businesses that cannot participate: retail, real estate and professional services.
  • The state will not reimburse local governments for any tax revenue loss.

The state Legislature has this week to either pass or reject the proposal.

Documents (PDF):

May 30, 2013 - 9:16pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in business, GCC, taxes, GCEDC, New York Tax Free.

Genesee Community College sits high on a hill surrounded by a lot of open space.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited GCC today to promote his "New York Tax Free" proposal, which would allow SUNY campuses such as GCC to play host to new businesses or businesses that are creating new jobs.

Up to 200,000 square feet of land around a SUNY campus could also be used for the 100-percent-tax-free zone.

All that open space around GCC, then, might also be described as opportunity.

"That was the vision 10 years ago that we started developing with GCC and Dr. Steiner and now Dr. Sunser," said Steve Hyde, CEO of GCEDC. The agency now has offices across the street from the college campus in what's known as the Upstate Med-Tech Center. "I think we're really well positioned to rock and roll together and really make a difference here."

Cuomo is clearly passionate about his proposal.  Whatever its critics might have to say about it, Cuomo has an answer and at times during his speech and afterward made his points with the fervor of an evangelist for Upstate New York.

Cuomo:

Nobody ever said (speaking of those who have left New York), I didn’t like New York or I didn’t like Upstate New York. Nobody.

We did this (mess up the state and cause 50 years of decline) to ourselves. We did this to ourselves because this state has every asset imaginable.

I spent eight years in the Clinton Administration. I worked in every state in this nation, literally, dozens and dozens of times. I know everything else that’s out there. I’ve seen the best that every state has. No state has to offer what we have to offer in New York. No state has our combination of talents.

Our geography, our diversity, our history, the most beautiful natural resources, mountain ranges, the greatest cities, beaches, we have it all, all in one state – the best of everything with the distillation of the best of America -- in one state called New York.

So it’s not that that they're beating us. We're beating us. We created these conditions. We can reverse these conditions. Reduce the taxes. Make this state as competitive as any state out there from a tax point of view.

"NY Tax Free" would turn SUNY campuses into zones with no state or local taxes of any kind for businesses based on the campuses (or in the 200K zone), and a company's employees, for up to 10 years.

The businesses would have to match the educational mission of the host campus, working in industries of related fields of study.

Cuomo's dream is clearly to incubate the next Apple or Google.

"If you look at the places that are creating jobs, it's the higher education institutions that are doing research and development. It's the 28-year-old who develops the new chip or the new iPhone of the new application, but the schools are actually creating the jobs."

These sorts of companies are getting founded on NY campuses now, Cuomo said, but 75 percent of them leave New York within the first year, taken either by founders or investors to lower tax states such as Florida or Texas.

Yes, the proposal is big and bold, Cuomo said. No other state in the nation has ever dared to take on such an audacious project, but New York does big and bold well, Cuomo said (while a picture of the Erie Canal was projected on the screen behind him).

Big problems, he said, require big solutions.

"People have been leaving," Cuomo said. "Jobs have been leaving. At the same time, we have more and more government and the costs of governing are going up and up while there are fewer and fewer people to pay for the increasing cost of government, which makes taxes higher, making the tax burden higher, which causes more people to leave. That's the dynamic and the longer the dynamic continues, the worst it gets."

Upstate, especially, needs the help, Cuomo said, and with 55 of the 64 SUNY campuses located in Upstate, and 95 percent of Upstate residents living within 30 miles of a SUNY campus, this proposal makes a lot of sense.

In the past several years, there has been only a 5-percent increase in new jobs in Upstate, while New York City has grown jobs at a clip of 16 percent. The 5-percent growth rate doesn't even keep up with the national average.

The proposal would create 120 million square feet of entrepreneurial space in Upstate, Cuomo said, which is more commercial space than in San Francisco and Philadelphia combined, and more than Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse combined.

Speaking with reporters after his speech, Cuomo said the major criticism he's heard of the proposal is that taxes should be lowered to zero for everyone.

"It's the right idea to have zero taxes across the board," Cuomo said, "but there's some problems with the details."

If the proposal seems unfair, Cuomo argued that the current tax system is unfair.

"There is not a level playing field in the current tax code," Cuomo said. "The more you make, the more you pay. Some businesses get tax breaks that others don't. We have tax breaks for manufacturing. Why? Because we decided we want manufacturing businesses here. We have tax breaks for the film business ... because we want to produce movies here. It's a falsity that the tax code is equal, but for this. The tax code is anything but equal."

He also argued that residents around SUNY campuses will benefit from the job creation, with employees of these companies buying groceries, cars and houses locally.

"There will be economic activity in your community and that will be a good thing for you," Cuomo said.

He added, "We can't sustain what's going on now in Upstate New York. We cannot sustain the population decline. Nobody moving in. Everybody moving out. Fewer and fewer people paying the cost of a growing government.  We cannot continue the trajectory we've been on."

May 16, 2013 - 1:37pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes.

Press release:

New York State Taxpayer Rights Advocate Camille Siano Enders today encouraged homeowners, businesses and others who own property to review their assessments before the deadline, which is May 28 in most communities.

“In only two years, the property tax cap is controlling the growth of property taxes and shining unprecedented light on local budgets,” Enders said. “By visiting your city or town’s Web site and checking your assessment, you can make sure that you are not paying more than your fair share of local taxes.”

Local assessment rolls, required to be available from local Web sites, list the property’s estimated market value and property tax exemptions. If the market value is significantly higher than the price for which the property could be sold, the property owner should consider the following steps:

  1. Talk with the assessor -- Often, an informal discussion between a property owner and an assessor can be beneficial to both parties.
     
  2. File an assessment grievance -- If an informal meeting doesn’t result in relief, property owners can file for assessment review. The local board of assessment review will review and respond to the information provided.
     
  3. File for small claims assessment review -- Available only to homeowners who don’t receive relief through the formal grievance process. Cost is $30 and review will be conducted by a court-appointed hearing officer. 

When requesting an assessment reduction, it is helpful for property owners to have an estimate of the market value of their home and documentation to support the decrease.  

Is your community keeping assessments up-to-date?

Reassessments enable cities and towns to ensure that assessments reflect current market values. During a reassessment, all of the properties in the community are reviewed, and assessments are increased or decreased where appropriate.

“The longer it has been since your locality has done a reassessment, the more likely it is that your assessment no longer reflects the market value of your property,” Enders said. “For each property that is under-assessed, there is another property that is paying more than its fair share of taxes.”  

Some municipalities keep assessments up-to-date annually, while others haven’t reassessed in decades.  

When properties do not reflect market value and are under-assessed, it does not mean the town, county or school district is collecting less in taxes. Rather, the under-assessment shifts the tax burden to other properties that are over-assessed or assessed fairly. 

For more information:

May 10, 2013 - 10:38am
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes, Mike Ranzenhofer.

Press release:

State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer today urged New Yorkers to sign his new online petition, rejecting Federal budget proposals that would increase taxes on Western New Yorkers by an average of $2,800. Residents can sign the petition by visiting Senator Ranzenhofer’s Web site, ranzenhofer.nysenate.gov.
 
“If enacted, this federal budget proposal would negatively impact the budgets of thousands of Western New Yorkers. I am urging Western New Yorkers to say NO to a new $2,800 tax increase,” Ranzenhofer said. “It is important for residents to be heard on this issue. By working together, we can send a strong message to Washington that Western New Yorkers are not an ATM machine.”
 
New Federal budget proposals would end a longstanding policy of allowing taxpayers to deduct state and local tax liability, including property taxes, on Federal tax returns. Eliminating the deduction would effectively double tax residents, since residents would be subject to Federal tax on income used to pay state and local taxes.
 
The impact of the proposal in Western New York is estimated to increase tax bills by an average of $2,800 for more than 139,101 residents. Federal tax bills for affected taxpayers would increase by an average of 30 percent.
 
Additional information is available in a report by Governor Cuomo, entitled "Impact on New Yorkers of Federal Tax Proposals," at http://www.governor.ny.gov/assets/documents/Impact-of-Federal-Tax-Proposals.pdf.
May 8, 2013 - 5:47am
posted by Bob Harker in politics, business, taxes, Andrew Cuomo, ny.

"ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Chief Executive magazine ranks New York as the49th worst state for business in the opinion of CEOs questioned. The ninth annual survey of CEOs blamed New York's high taxes, bureaucracy and a regulatory system that is difficult to navigate. The CEOs ranked New York just better than California. Most larger states with strong labor unions faired poorly in the rankings. CEOs liked Texas most for the ninth straight year, followed by Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana. The ranking comes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is continuing a "New York Open for Business" campaign with TV ads that say the Empire State is now far more welcoming of business and employers. A Cuomo spokesman notes the state is now at its highest work force size ever."

March 19, 2013 - 9:51am
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes, steve hawley.

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia) recently joined his legislative colleagues and members of the business community at a press conference in opposition to a hidden utility tax. The 18-A Utility Assessment was enacted in 2009 and was set to expire this year, although the governor’s Executive Budget includes an extension of the tax. Hawley sponsored Assembly Bill 382 to repeal the tax as soon as it was enacted, receiving 17 bipartisan cosponsors, and noted the strain the surcharge puts on both families and businesses.

“This tax hurts every family, senior and job creator who pays utility bills in New York State,” Hawley said. “It was a bad idea when it was passed and it’s an even worse idea to extend it. This is an example of state government saying one thing and doing the exact opposite. That’s why I have sponsored legislation to repeal the tax, and that’s why I was proud to stand with my fellow Assembly members and business leaders urging that this tax expire as promised.”

In attendance at the press conference were representatives from the Business Council of New York State, Inc., Manufacturers Association of Central New York, National Federation of Independent Business, Unshackle Upstate and the New York Farm Bureau.

February 4, 2013 - 11:24am
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, taxes, GCEDC.

A proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to curtail sales tax exemptions on new development and redevelopment projects could hurt such projects locally, according to City Manager Jason Molino and Steve Hyde, CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center.

"Losing the ability to offer state portion of sales tax exemptions dilutes our financial assistance offerings at the local level," Hyde said. "That hurts since we remain the 49th most expensive state to do business in."

Nearly all projects that come to the Industrial Development Agency for assistance and the promise of job growth receive a sales tax exemption on building materials, plant expansion and/or new equipment.

The City of Batavia has been aggressively pursuing projects that redevelop commercial parts of the city -- called "brownfield redevelopment" -- and the loss of the sales tax exemption could be a setback for those plans.

While Molino is reserved in his judgement since the governor's budget is still in the early proposal phase, he said if the elimination of sales tax exemptions goes through, it won't be good for Batavia.

"I think it has the potential to negatively affect any economic development effort that would use sales tax exemptions as part of its model for development," Molino said.

Hyde said much of the redevelopment necessary in the city won't qualify for the state's "excelsior program," which provides tax credits for strategically targeted industries, so maintaining the sales tax exemption is critical.

"We can support some really exciting things developing in the city to the fullest extent possible," Hyde said.

The Buffalo News carried a story this morning about how the budget proposal will be a setback for redevelopment in Buffalo.

Hyde encouraged constituents to reach out to the governor's office and express concern about the proposal.

"This topic is important as community development projects will be negatively impacted considerably and those are the lifestyle projects important to our  residents," Hyde said.

January 30, 2013 - 7:36pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, taxes, Genesee ARC.

Genesee ARC will be able to claim its recycling center at 3785 W. Main St. Road, Batavia, as a tax-exempt property despite missing an important deadline.

According to the county's Deputy Treasurer Matt Landers the nonprofit organization failed to apply for tax-exempt status on the property by the tax status deadline date.

As a result, three local government agencies included in their budgets anticipated revenue from the 5.3-acre parcel, which has an accessed value of $860,000.

When ARC asked to receive tax-exempt status, Landers said his initial reaction was "no," because of the budget concerns.

Then a staff member found a legal opinion that states that an owner is eligible for reconsideration of tax-exempt status after a missed deadline if the assessor concurs in writing that the property was eligible on the tax status date.

The decision wipes out more than $30,000 of anticipated revenue for local governments.

Batavia City Schools anticipated in its 2012-2013 budget revenue of $21,543.07.

According to Landers, district officials, when faced with the revenue loss, double checked the legal opinion and reached the same conclusion as the county Assessor's Office.

The county was set to receive in 2013 $3,650.37 in Medicaid mandate taxes and another $4,189.84 in county property tax.

The Town of Batavia Fire District will see its revenue for 2013 drop by $2,012.36.

Genesee ARC held its grand opening for its new recycling facility on West Main, formally a location for Duro Shed, in September.

March 28, 2012 - 4:45pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in taxes, steve hawley.

Press release:

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,I,C-Batavia) today sponsored Assembly Bill 1202, a budget amendment to repeal a crippling utility tax on local homeowners and businesses.

Other amendments brought to the Assembly Floor for a vote by the Minority Conference included a repeal of unfunded mandates and ban on future levies and a state spending cap to end the irresponsible use of tax dollars.

Hawley supported these measures as part of his ongoing fight to deliver real, tangible savings for taxpayers in Western New York.

“I sponsored and advanced the budget amendment to reduce utility taxes on homeowners and businesses because Western New Yorkers can no longer afford to foot the bill for state government’s irresponsible spending habits,” said Hawley.

“Utility taxes hurt our most vulnerable citizens, like seniors on fixed incomes, who need to heat their homes during the cold winter months. Coupled with the state spending cap and unfunded mandate relief that I voted in favor of today, the taxpayers of Western New York have made their voices heard loud and clear.”

January 19, 2012 - 6:55pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, taxes, sales tax.

Genesee County will likely close the financial books on 2011 with an unexpected revenue surplus and County Treasurer Scott German is recommending the legislature roll the money over into its reserves.

The extra money will likely come from a windfall of $997,000 in sales tax revenue that came in above budgeted expectations.

At Wednesday's Ways and Means Committee meeting, Legislator Ray Cianfrini asked if the 2012 budget could be amended so some of this unexpected revenue could be directed at programs cut in 2012, such as Meals on Wheels, which is being forced to reduce delivery days.

In an interview Thursday, German said the legislature could do that, but his recommendation is that the money be held in reserve.

Reserves, he said, should be used for emergency expenditures, such as a bridge falling down, and not to fund programs legislators already decided already to cut.

"Under the tax cap, the legislators still had room to raise taxes if they wanted to fund those programs," German said. "The fact the sales tax came in better than anticipated, that's not a good justification to fund a program."

The treasurer said he anticipates the county will close its books on 2011 -- which happens in March -- with $13.2 million in revenue, up from the anticipated $12.2 million.

Total sales tax for the county -- which is shared among the county and various municipal agencies -- was $35.2 million, beating the 2008 record of $34.3 million.

Higher gas prices and the three-week close-out sale at Lowe's were probably the main contributing factors to the strong sales tax numbers, German said.

Is the local economy improving?

"I would hope that would be the case, but that would be speculation," German said. "I would hope business is getting better."

November 21, 2011 - 2:53pm
posted by Bob Harker in spending, Albany, taxes, GCEDC.

ALBANY — The state’s top court threw out a lawsuit today that would have upended the way New York funds economic development projects. In a 5-to-2 ruling issued this morning, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the state’s right to transfer funds to “public-benefit corporations,” which then take the money and offer it to private businesses in the form of grants and tax incentives. The state’s main economic-development branch is the Empire State Development Corp., which is technically independent of the government and therefore isn’t bound by a constitutional ban on giving state money to private entities, the court found. Although some “may question the wisdom of policy choices,” the court found “no constitutional infirmity to the challenged appropriations,” according to the majority opinion. A Niagara County businessman and 49 other generally conservative taxpayers originally filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court in 2009. The group alleged that grants doled out by the Empire State Development Corp. and other public-benefit corporations violated Article VII of the New York state Constitution, which prohibits state money from being “given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association.” A state Supreme Court judge had ruled to dismiss the lawsuit, but the Appellate Division reversed the ruling last year. Today’s ruling upheld the Supreme Court judge’s original decision. [email protected]

October 25, 2011 - 12:22pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, taxes.

It seems like a simple thing -- the New York State Legislature passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law -- a bill capping local property tax increases at 2-percent annually.

Except it's not so simple.

If you think that one of these years, your taxes can't go up more than 2 percent over what you paid the previous year, think again.

The tax cap is actually on the tax levy. The tax levy is the amount of revenue a local jurisdiction needs to help pay its bills. A local jurisdiction determines what the levy needs to be and then calculates the tax rate for that budget year.

The tax cap doesn't touch the tax rate at all, nor does it control assessed value. 

The law caps the levy increase at 2 percent, or that's what you might think.

It really doesn't cap it at 2 percent at all. There are exceptions for changes in assessed value and exclusions for increases in pension costs.

For the City of Batavia, for example, the city council could -- perfectly within the tax-cap formula -- increase the tax levy for 2012-13 and raise the tax levy 4.3 percent.

City Council President Marianne Clattenburg's reaction after seeing a tax cap presentation at the council's Monday night meeting: "Unreal."

"This (the tax cap) is misleading to taxpayers," Clattenburg said. "They’re expecting a 2-percent tax cap when they can get a 4-percent tax cap."

Besides not being a straightforward cap on tax increases, the law also provides local jurisdictions with the ability to override the cap with a 60-percent vote of the governing body -- something New York's cities, villages, towns and school boards seem prepared to do across the board, according to The New York Times.

In fact, because there are penalties for failure to abide by the cap, and because the formulas for calculating it are complex, city staff  New York Conference of Mayors is recommending that the council enact a local law to override the cap every year, even if there isn't an increase in the levy at all. That way, the city is protected if a subsequent audit finds the tax levy increased more than allowed under the law.

For the city, once the calculation is done for the 2012-13 fiscal year, the city's levy could increase more than 4 percent, from $5.8 million to $5.9 million.

It hasn't been determine how that potential levy (there's no recommendation or budget decision in the calculation) will impact the tax rate paid by individual property owners.

In 2009, for example, the tax levy increased 4.2 percent, but the tax rate went up by only 1.62 percent.

In 2011, the levy went up 2.5 percent and the rate increased 1.26 percent.

City Manager Jason Molino was quick to point out at the start of Monday's meeting that in any of the financial presentations made, there were no budget recommendations. The presentations were merely to help the council understand current economic factors affecting the upcoming budget.

Part of the presentation, Molino (pictured) provided an overview of the recent "positive outlook" given the city by the bond-rating agency Moody's.

Though Moody's said the city has some financial challenges -- too small of a reserve fund and an unresolved contract with the police union, among them -- the city has made tremendous progress in going from a municipality having a hard time paying its bills to one planning for the future.

"It’s a good feather in the city’s cap that you’ve done the right budgeting, the right financing, over the past several years to get to this point," Molino told council members.

Also on Monday, the city approved an emergency expenditure of up to $35,000 to replace the roof on City Police Headquarters.  

A proposed donation for a veterans memorial was put off until it's time for the city to discuss the budget.

October 20, 2011 - 11:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, taxes.

Greg Post, supervisor for the Town of Batavia, which currently has no town property tax, is tempted to announce a 50-percent increase in the tax levy.

For those who haven't done that kind of ciphering in a few years, 0 x 50 percent = 0.

But Post is rather irritated with Albany and the state legislature's passage of a 2-percent cap on property taxes without corresponding mandate relief.

Mandates include increases in health care costs for employees, an increase in power rates without local input, and an increase in pension benefits.

Meanwhile, many local governments are facing problems with aging infrastructure -- infrastructure that needs to be in good repair to attract jobs and retain businesses and help emergency responders get to where they need to go.

Albany, Post, said, should just butt out of local government.

"I’m perfectly capable, as is my board, of making decisions," Post said. "Whether they’re good decisions or not can be judged by the community. The community can show up here at public hearings and voice their concerns and if they don't like our decisions they can vote us out of office."

For the most part, Post said, the small towns and villages of Upstate New York are fiscally conservative and do a good job of holding down expenses. Albany, he said, has no idea how to run a town in Western New York and shouldn't even try.

But some towns have put off infrastructure repairs and their needs are getting critical.

He said he knew of one town that wanted to raise its tax levy 20 percent, which would have meant only a $20 increase in the average property tax bill.

But because of the tax cap, the board is faced with a tough decision -- take a special vote to override the cap, or not go out and get the revenue it needs for the town to survive.

Post sees the levy as a trap laid by Democrats in Albany to force conservatives in small towns in Upstate New York out of office. 

Uninformed voters, he said, will likely vote out of office any official who votes to override the cap, and they will be replaced by less fiscally responsible, less experienced officials.

That's why, he said, he introduced a local law for the Town of Batavia to override the cap. Even though Post has no intention of allowing a tax increase to go through, passage of an override measure is a protest against the heavy-handedness of Albany.

He hopes it will provide cover for those jurisdictions that really do need to override the cap.

He said he plans to introduce the same measure every year that he's in office so long as Albany refuses to pass meaningful mandate relief.

On Wednesday, the town board unanimously approved a public hearing on the proposed local law. The hearing is set for Nov. 9.

August 31, 2011 - 11:51pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, budget, taxes.

It might be a bit of glasnost in the Genesee County Legislature, a weakening of the hard line legislators have taken against a tax increase for the past few years.

The oft-repeated word by the nine legislators during an impromptu budget discussion Wednesday was "tweak," as in, "tweak the current rate just a little bit."

"I think all of us have an interest in keeping the rate the same," Legislator Hollis Upson said. "One thought I have been pondering though is that with the 2-percent tax cap, I could be persuaded to let some expansion take place just a little bit. I'm not so worried about this budget, but the lack of control we have on mandates and what that means in future years. I'm a little concerned about holding the line so close that it puts us in a straitjacket or requires large cost cuts that must come from somewhere.

"I've got to the point," Upson added, "where I can tolerate a little bit of a tweak, as little as possible, and only after exhausting every other opportunity to cut costs."

Several other legislators also said a "tweak" might be exceptable, some even after taking a hardline stance in favor of cuts and against any tax increase.

"I still say there's room among our labor force to where there is still fat that can be cut," Legislator Jay Grasso said.

Grasso expressed concern that some department heads haven't been willing to step up and say what cuts they would be willing to make to help the county trim as much as 5 percent in spending.

"As much as I support public safety, that has to be looked at as well," Grasso said. "If we look at aggressive, across-the-board cuts, everybody feels the pain. If there are cuts, no department should be spared."

While offering tepid support for "tweaks," he also said he was concerned that any rate increase would send the wrong message to Albany -- that Albany can keep pushing unfunded mandates on counties knowing that if they must, counties will just raise taxes.

If a "tweak" means staying under the 2-percent tax cap, then the county could only generate only $500,000 in new revenue. Several legislators and County Manager Jay Gsell acknowledged that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the potential shortfall the county is facing.

"We need to get to $136 million (in spending) and even I think that is highly unrealistic," Gsell said.

The county has cut spending by 30 percent over the past few years. But with about 90 percent of the county's budget going to unfunded mandates, and costs rising year after year on those mandates -- primarily Medicaid and pensions, it's getting to the point where the only cuts left to make are to essential services. 

"As a former mayor of Oakfield, I'm very conscious of our aging infrastructure," Legislator Ray Cianfrini said. "We're still wrestling with our water tower issue. If we keep putting off spending on infrastructure, we're only kicking the can down the road and putting of the inevitable. 

"When I look at the damage caused by Hurricane Irene and the roads washed away and the bridges collapsed, I think 'that can happen to us.' Our bridges aren't safe and our roads barely meet standards. If we don't have the money to (take care of infrastructure), then I would not be opposed to tweaking the rate to see if we can generate some money for that."

Cianfrini also expressed concern about some funding inequalities creeping into the budget. For example, he said, the DA's office now has the same staffing levels as the public defender's office. However, the DA's office handles 100 percent of the criminal cases in Genesee County, while the public defender's office only handles cases for clients who can't afford a private attorney.

The County Clerk's office also came under scrutiny.

Last year, County Clerk Don Read argued that since his department creates revenue for the county, it should be exempt from cuts. Cuts, he argued, would diminish his department's ability to generate as much revenue.

"Why shouldn't they be asked to do more with less and then generate more money that might be applied someplace else," Legislator Bob Radley said. "Just because you pay your way shouldn't mean that you shouldn't be asked to help us along the way."

Radley is also worried about the county continuing to subsidize the nursing home at $2 million per year.

"Something needs to be done about that," Radley said.

Legislator Ed DeJaneiro said that while he supports holding the line on the tax rate, he is concerned about the damage being done to the county.

"It will get to the point where we're lessening the quality of life in our community via our nursing home, our health and safety and our infrastructure," DeJaneiro said. "Our infrastructure will be compromised if we don't stay on top of what we can do and our law enforcement will be compromised."

Only Legislator Bob Bausch spoke at length about ways to raise revenue other than a tax increase. His idea -- a marketing campaign to encourage people to spend more of their dollars locally instead of in neighboring counties.

"I have suddenly become very aware of where the heck I buy my gas," Bausch said. "I buy a lot of gas every week for my personal car and my company cars. If I'm going from Bergen to Perry or from Batavia to Perry on my typical runs, I'm buying a lot of gas."

Bausch suggested if more people who travel out of county were conscientious about buying their gas closer to home, it could help generate a good bit of extra money for the county government, taking pressure off the legislature to raise taxes.

"These things start to add up," he said.

"I'm the last person who is going to tell my wife not to go to the mall in Rochester or Buffalo and not to buy clothes," Bausch said. "I fear for my own life. But when you look at the day-to-day things we buy, it starts to make a difference. We need to get that word out there."

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