Yates Legislature OKs tax cap override if needed

Gwen Chamberlain

A proposed local law that has been adopted as almost a footnote to the budget building process in local government and school districts in the past two years drew some opposition at Monday evening's Yates County legislature meeting.

In 2011 New York State adopted the law establishing a cap on the growth of the property that would limit that growth to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The law does give local governments the ability to override the cap by adopting a local law each year.

To adopt a local law, the county legislature must hold a hearing for public comment. Five people addressed the legislature Monday, some drawing applause from the audience for their comments.

Marcia English, who is a member of the Bluff Point Association's board of directors, delivered that group's message encouraging the legislature to not adopt an override.

Others who spoke against the override included legislative District I Republican primary candidate Gary Montgomery, who suggested that the legislature delay adopting the local law until after computing what the county's actual cap would be. Although the state has promoted the measure as a 2 percent cap, a complicated equation establishes the cap, which often exceeds 2 percent.

Montgomery told the legislature that waiting to decide on the override would satisfy the public's concerns and would send a message indicating the legislature's desire to keep the 2014 budget increase down.

Duane Weldon told the legislature that this year's 14 percent increase in local tax levy was a loan from property owners and that no legislator voting for the override would get his vote in the upcoming election.

Repeating a message he first delivered in 2010, Legislative Chairman Taylor Fitch told the audience the property tax cap is a "Trojan Horse" that diverts attention from New York State. "Counties are fed up with New York State passing on their own failure," he said.

Fitch said Yates County's property taxes would go down by 1/3 if the state would take over the local share of Medicaid.

Noting that the county budgets for 2007, 2010 and 2011 included no increase in the property tax levy, Fitch said last year's 14 percent increase rose from some line item increases that were out of the county's control. He said if the county had adopted budgets with tax increases of 2 percent those years, it would not have needed the increase of over 14 percent this year.

In the end, the legislature adopted the override in an 11-1 vote with Legislators Steve Webster and Rick Willson absent. District III Legislator Mark Morris cast the lone "no" vote, explaining that his core principal is to not grow government at a cost greater than the cost of inflation.

Finance Committee Chairman Tim Dennis reminded others that two items — pension costs and the county's share of community college education put Yates County over the tax cap last year. "We could have gotten under there, but there would be no road maintenance, there would be deputies sitting waiting to be dispatched and no transportation for veterans. There's a long list of things we could cut, but as soon as we propose some of these things, this room is filled to overflowing. We really do have to have this balancing act."

District I Legislator Douglas Paddock reminded the audience that legislators are taxpayers too. "I consider that every time when I vote. I consider this vote to agree to the protection of the tax cap override as an insurance policy against things we can't see."

In other business Monday, the legislature:

• 4-H: Former 4-Her David Strickland, addressed the legislature, describing how 4-H programs laid the groundwork for his college and career choice. He will be attending graduate school to seek a PHD in molecular biology.

• DISTRICT ATTORNEY: In this month's department presentation, District Attorney Jason Cook described the department's mission and operations. "We strive to be both efficient and effective to keep the community safe from crime and hold offenders accountable." he said.

Cook spoke at length about of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. "Nothing is more dangerous to the fabric of our community than the drugs," he said, explaining drugs are at the root of other crimes. "A drug addict has to steal each day to feed their habit. It's a vicious cycle."

He said in 2009 the DA prosecuted three felony drug cases and in 2012, 34 felony drug cases.

The DA's office is working with other agencies on some specific initiatives, such as the Child Abuse Review Team (CART), Domestic Abuse Review Team (DART), Elder Abuse and Drug Court.

Fitch said summer legislative meetings are held in the evening is so the public can attend and learn more about the departments. The September presentation will be by the Department of Social Services.

• INDIGENT SERVICES: Human Services Committee Chairperson Douglas Paddock reported the county has received a $156,000 grant to provide counsel at a defendant's first appearance in court. Paddock said the three-year grant continues through May 31, 2016. Public Defender Ed Brockman is developing a plan to administer the grant. Paddock noted one of the issues is having counsel available in the middle of the night. "Many of them live in Ontario County. This is another crazy idea by New York State," he said. County Administrator Sarah Purdy says part of Brockman's plan could include the use of technology such as video feeds to town courts, and while the grant will pay for the public defender's costs, the move will have a financial impact on other county departments — corrections officers in particular — and on the town courts.

• VETERANS EXEMPTION: Phil Hanna, who lives in the Town of Jerusalem, addressed the legislature, encouraging them to consider adopting the Cold War Veterans property tax exemption.

• VACANCIES: Among the resolutions passed by legislators were two that involved staffing in the DSS. The first resolution authorized the DSS Commissioner to fill an Adult Protective Caseworker position that will become vacant due to a retirement. The second authorizes the commissioner to fill an anticipated vacancy that is likely to occur when a Children's Services Caseworker makes a lateral move into the Adult Protective position. Paddock said analysis of the positions showed if the positions were eliminated, it would save the county $11,000 annually, but that analysis also showed that Yates County case workers carry a heavier case load than their counterparts in neighboring counties.

• BOAT: The legislature accepted a fully equipped 2013 Brunswick Boston Whaler patrol vessel through a grant from the U.S. Coast Guard administered by New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The resolution also declared a 15-year-old Sea Swirl with outboard motor and trailer valued at about $9,500 as surplus to be returned to the state office. It was purchased with a 75 percent grant from the state and will be used in the Hudson Valley region, according to Sheriff Ron Spike. Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Donna Alexander explained it was erroneously stated during the Public Safety Committee meeting that the used boat's value was $3,500.