O’Mara, Palmesano visit Yates

Gwen Chamberlain
(Left to right) Yates County Veterans' Service Agency Director Earle Gleason and Legislature Chairman Dr. Timothy Dennis speaking with State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.
Gwen Chamberlain/Chronicle-Express

When Yates County, town, and village elected officials met with State Sen. Tom O’Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano Monday, they reinforced a message they’ve been sharing for months — one way to reduce property taxes is through mandate relief.

They didn’t get any argument from the two state representatives, who shared their own concerns about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed property tax freeze and rebate promises, among other things.

“Mandate relief is the best way to accomplish tax relief,” said O’Mara, who also noted he’s disappointed with the approach Cuomo is taking, with no intention of providing relief from state requirements that weigh heavily on local governments.

O’Mara said most counties in his senate district have cut budgets and reduced workforce, but the governor’s “one size fits all” approach to reducing the cost of government penalizes localities that have already made reductions.

“We have plenty of levels of government here, but not the levels with the high-paid positions like on Long Island or the Hudson Region,” he added.

The governor’s budget proposal includes a program to reward local governments that keep tax levy increases below their 2 percent cap and find ways to consolidate services with other taxing districts by issuing rebates to property taxpayers.

However, Yates County officials say the average tax rebate will amount to about $10 for each county property taxpayer. An independent study done by Citizen Action of New York has concluded, “The proposed property tax freeze hits Upstaters with a double-whammy. Upstate taxpayers would not only subsidize higher rebate checks for well-off suburban homeowners, but will also face the impact of cuts in schools and local services in order to fund the freeze. “

That study indicates the average total rebate for Yates County property taxpayers (that is, if all of the taxing districts meet the rebate criteria) would be $74. When he announced the plan, Cuomo said average rebates for 2.8 million homeowners would be around $350.

O’Mara said he doesn’t see a lot of support for the proposal in the Senate. “I see it as something that’s unworkable,” he said, adding that he would like to see the basis for the rebate applied to offset mandated costs.

“You can only share so many services,” agreed Palmesano, who said he would rather see the end of Gap Elimination Aid in public education.

Legislator Douglas Paddock pointed out that if the state used the current and anticipated surplus funds to take over the portion of Medicaid expenses currently paid through local property taxes, the savings would be much greater for property owners.

Legislative Chairman Tim Dennis presented O’Mara and Palmesano with a list of 16 ways Yates County, neighboring counties, various towns, and villages share services, including highway services and equipment and emergency services.

Jerusalem Supervisor Patrick Killen pointed out that the town has stayed within the 2 percent tax cap for three budgets, but the town board has passed the tax cap override resolution each year to protect from being penalized during an audit. He said consolidation of services between the town and county would result in a decline in the quality of services and increased costs.

Other ares discussed during the meeting included:

• ELECTION REFORM: O’Mara said he would like to see the state pay for the increased cost of making voting more accessible, but he is also sponsoring legislation to to allow doubling the size of election districts to decrease the number of polling places. He also discussed the issues revolving around two primary dates, saying he favors a state primary in late August rather than June, with the federal primary.

• “OPEN FOR BUSINESS:”Addressing the state’s promotion that “New York is Open for Business,” Legislator Mark Morris told O’Mara and Palmesano, “The fundamental problem is we are not cost-competitive with other states. O’Mara said he feels the right steps are being taken to make New York competitive. “It’s not going to happen over night, but we need to keep taking steps. Keeping state spending below a 2 percent increase is a start.”

• COLLEGE FOR INMATES: Palmesano said some of Cuomo’s recent positions — from his comment about no place in New York for conservatives to his proposal for free college educations for inmates — have not been helpful. He suggested the answer to decreasing recidivism is to increase shock programs like the one at Monterey Shock Camp in Schuyler County, which Cuomo has proposed closing. Cuomo says spending $5,000 per inmate to provide college level education will reduce recidivism, and save money for the state.

The legislators also discussed measures for control of invasive species, reforms in requirements for home rule legislation, and highway funding.