Counties want tax answer

Gwen Chamberlain

State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano is confident lawmakers will approve the extension of two local taxes that Yates County officials depend on for over $3 million in revenue to help pay for local services.

“I fully expect that we will have to get called back. It’s too big of an issue for it not to get done,” said Palmesano Monday.

Now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the legislators back to session, county officials around the state are calling for a permanent resolution.

Tuesday morning, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an extraordinary legislative session for 1 p.m. June 28 to enact legislation to extend mayoral control of the New York city school district for an additional year and other business, which would likely include the tax extensions.

New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario commented, “NYSAC calls on the members of the State Assembly and Senate to provide counties with permanent authority to continue their current sales tax rates, a local home rule revenue authority New York City was granted nearly a decade ago, but has not been provided to counties. These local sales tax revenues enable counties and other local governments that receive a share of these revenues, to pay for state-mandated programs and provide critical local services that would otherwise disappear.

The Yates County Legislature first requested home rule approval for the .25 percent mortgage tax renewal and sales tax renewal in March. It’s a formality that local officials have gone through every two years for some time, and in every other instance, state officials have obliged the request. This year, the county home rule requests were lumped with a bill related to the New York City mayor’s authority over New York City Schools, putting them in the middle of a political tug of war.

The assembly did not act on the extension of the 0.25 percent increase in the mortgage tax and the 1 percent sales tax extension before leaving the state capital last week. Without the state’s approval of extending the two local taxes, the county budget would be short over $3 million, according to Treasurer and Budget Officer Winona Flynn. She says based on the 2017 tax levy and rate, to provide services and programs at the current level, property taxpayers would have to shoulder a 19.3 percent property tax increase, or county legislators will have to decrease spending by the same amount, which could likely mean cuts in jobs and services.

Flynn says Yates County isn’t the only county facing a funding shortfall without state action. “Knowing that there are 52 other counties in this same situation, I am optimistic that the state legislators will be called back to Albany to resolve this issue.”

Palmesano says the mortgage and sales tax extensions should be acted upon individually and independent of the New York City school issue. “I think it’s just caught up in politics,” he says, adding he’s looking for assembly members to be recalled sooner rather than later. “It needs to be done for the local officials,” he says.

Although the Yates County Legislature doesn’t adopt a final budget until December, work on departmental budgets for 2018 will begin within weeks, and budget workshops at the legislative level are generally held in October.

“Combating the opioid crisis, reforming public defense services, raising the age, maintaining local infrastructure, and providing Meals on Wheels to seniors are among the many local programs that will be impacted by the state’s inaction,” according to a statement released by the NYSAC.

NYSAC President William E. Cherry comments, “While the State Legislature’s inaction on these measures injects real uncertainty into the county budget adoption process, I will be encouraging county budget officers to prepare county budgets that assume positive action on these measures and the $1.8 billion in sales tax revenues that it means for local governments in 2018. Prolonged inaction by the state will inject grave uncertainty in the budget-making process for counties and their property taxpayers across the state.”