What Cuomo’s proposed tax overhaul means for the North Country

ALBANY — As the pressure ramped up last week for state lawmakers to deliver a budget by March 31, Governor Andrew Cuomo launched a campaign to push his proposed property tax cuts, a plan he initially outlined in January’s 2014-2015 Executive Budget Address that he estimates will deliver $2 billion in tax relief to state residents.

Cuomo, who capped property taxes at two percent early on in his tenure, chalks the “structural cause” of high property taxes up to the proliferation and expense of local governments and argues now that the state has done their part to cut spending, local governments and other tax jurisdictions need to step up their efforts to reduce costs and consolidate services in order to limit spending growth to two percent a year.

The “No Excuses” initiative hinges on mobilizing the public to lobby their state representatives in support of the plan, asking them to exercise some tough love by forcing them to go on a bureaucratic diet.

According to the plan, as an incentivize for local governments to share services, residents will be eligible for the tax freeze in the first year if their leaders stay within the two percent cap. The state will then provide rebate checks to homeowners with incomes of $500,000 or less who live in those jurisdictions.

Homeowners will only receive a tax credit in the second year if municipalities continue to stay within the cap and develop a plan for sharing or consolidating services and eliminating duplication and overlap that generates savings equal to three percent of the tax levy within the next three years.

When these plans are fully implemented, said the New York State Tax Relief Commission, local governments and school districts could provide property tax relief of up to $1 billion.

North Country officials say while this plan makes sense when it comes to combating the waste and sprawl in downstate municipalities — several cite New York City-area towns with lavish facilities, town-sponsored racing teams, generous insurance and retirement packages with low thresholds for public service and tangled thickets of water, sewer, gas and fire districts — this doesn’t apply to their towns, the ones that have been consolidating and sharing services for years.

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