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October 17, 2019 - 5:57pm

Legislators debate proposal to include information about state-mandated expenses on property tax bills

posted by Howard B. Owens in property taxes, news.

County legislators decided Wednesday to take a little more time on deciding whether to add information to property tax bills about how much of the county's property tax levy goes to funding state-mandated services.

The proposal brought to the Ways and Means Committee included line items for:

  • Social Services (including Medicaid)
  • Jail
  • Probation
  • Early Intervention
  • PHC Preschool
  • Mental Health
  • Public Defender
  • Assigned Counsel
  • Community College Tuition (excluding GCC sponsor share)
  • District Attorney Salary

Members of the committee were not entirely comfortable with the entire list, or even whether the information disclosure should be included on the tax bill at all, which only goes to property owners whose taxes are not paid by mortgage holders.

Those services eat up $23 million, or 76 percent of the county's tax levy. 

New York State mandated services -- services that the state requires the county to provide, or services the county would provide anyway but the state mandates that they be delivered in a specific way and at a specific cost -- are a long-standing complaint of local legislators.

The proposal, some legislators think, would help inform local taxpayers that the county's elected officials have little say in how their money is spent.

Legislator Andrew Young seemed the most uncomfortable with including the information at all on the tax bills.

"It just seems like whining to me," Young said. "It’s just like when I ask Steve Hawley (about Albany), ‘well, we’re stuck. It’s somebody else’s fault.’ What do we really get out of it? I’m not sure we’re really sharing any information that anybody understands, so we’re really just feeling better … I don’t know, it just feels like whining to me.”

Committee Chair Marianne Clattenburg thought it important that taxpayers understand how Albany constrains county government but wasn't sure the list entirely accomplished that goal since some of the items are functions of government the county would provide without state mandates, but perhaps not in the way or at the price tag the state dictates.

Young noted that the county also receives a lot of grant money for things like roads and bridges from the state; perhaps that evens out the mandated expenses.

"It’s really about control, right?" Young said. "Let’s just assume it’s even. It just means they get to control us."

Clattenburg responded, "It’s about what a local government decides to do and how to do it. That is really what most of the budget is. It’s about how New York City does things and we’re not New York City, so it’s really frustrating.”

She said she did think it's important for citizens to understand how the local government spends property tax revenue.

"Maybe if we kept (the list) to just mandates we really struggle with, Medicaid, early childhood, all these mandates associated with law enforcement, the district attorney, assigned council, and all of that -- the things that we are required to do, that if we could do them ourselves we might design a different way," Clattenburg said.

Legislators Shelly Stein and Gregg Torrey both spoke in favor of including information about mandates expenses on the tax bill.

Stein said she knows people who look at their tax bills and will be interested in information on the back about how the money is spent.

In order for the county to start including such information, local law will need to be amended. To do that, the Legislature would need to pass a resolution in November and hold a public hearing in December and vote for the change before January in order for the July tax bills to carry the information.

That isn't likely to happen since Ways and Means tabled the resolution Wednesday.

"I think we have to decide what’s going to be on the list and I think everybody needs input into that and I would like to hear every legislator, not just the committee," Clattenburg said.

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