ALBANY — Columbia and Greene County officials have mixed feelings about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposals to continue to reduce local property taxes next year by requiring municipalities to save money through shared services.
The governor has been releasing his yearly State of the State proposals for 2018 one at a time and his sixth proposal aims to continue to lower New York’s heavy property taxes by cutting spending at the local levels through extension of his shared services initiative.
“This year, we made unprecedented advancements in providing real, tangible savings for property taxpayers across New York and with this proposal we seek to build upon this work,” Cuomo said. “While forces in Washington seek to raise taxes on hardworking middle class New Yorkers, we, with our partners in local government, will continue to work to cut costs, find efficiencies and lower property taxes.”
The governor’s proposals are:
• Make the state’s countywide shared services panels permanent.
• Reduce local health insurance costs by easing rules on the creation of local health care consortia.
• Include in the 2018 Executive Budget a $225 million appropriation as a state match for savings from shared services plans.
• Continue the state’s local property tax relief program.
“With the latest upgrade to the 2017 shared services proposal, New York is once again serving as a national model for government efficiency,” said Greene County Legislature Chairman Kevin Lewis. “Through collaboration with local partners, sharing services such as health insurance options allows us to cut wasteful government spending and put hard-earned money back in the pockets of working New Yorkers.”
Greene County’s shared services panel was unable to come to an agreement on a plan for 2017 — the deadline to submit a plan to the state was Sept. 15 — but has continued to hold meetings to discuss the issue.
“The one thing we all agreed on was to create a countywide health care consortium,” said Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden. “But part of the requirements are too onerous for a lot of the towns and villages to participate. If Cuomo makes it easier, that would be great.”
But Groden said he wants the governor to address unfunded mandates the state places on local municipalities — for example, social services programs such as Medicaid expenses.
Columbia County, whose budget for next year raises the tax levy within the mandated tax cap, approved its shared services plan in September that includes shared information technology services, real property personnel, human resources personnel and the county’s purchasing agreement for office supplies.
“This is nothing all that different from the last time, except that they are institutionalizing the shared services panels,” said Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murell, R-Stockport. “We have already started implementing the things we said we were going to do such as sharing human resources services and IT services.”
According to the Columbia County’s plan, all municipalities including the county, all cities, towns and villages, school districts and special districts levied $336.2 million in property taxes in 2017. The plan includes all towns, the villages of Valatie, Philmont and Kinderhook and the city of Hudson. Participating entities levied $76.1 million in property taxes in 2017.
The county anticipates saving a net $1.88 million through the plan as it stands.
Murell said the county is in the process of signing shared service agreements with the towns and villages.
Murell said he was glad to see the governor address concerns the county had while drawing up its shared services plan.
According to the county’s plan, officials wanted to share its insurance plan with town and village governments, but laws prohibited them from doing so.
“It shows they were actually listening,” Murell said. “We would like to share our insurance with the towns and villages.”
Groden said Cuomo’s address Wednesday will not have an effect on any future discussions about a shared jail concept with Columbia County. The discussions started before the recent State of the State address.
“That’s going to stand on its own merits,” he said of the shared jail concept.
Lawmakers from both counties met Wednesday to continue discussions about a shared jail. Groden said Columbia County officials have to determine if there is enough space to add an expansion to the existing Columbia County Jail in Hudson.
“It’s not like they’ve got 50 acres,” Groden said. “It’s all still conceptual. We might have to get more engineering involved.”
Legislator William Lawrence, R-Cairo, said Cuomo’s most recent push for shared services gives more incentive for lawmakers to share a jail facility with Columbia County. Officials from the governor’s office have spoken to Greene County lawmakers supporting the idea of a shared facility.
“They’ll be more than happy to push it through [the state legislature],” Lawrence said. “The biggest step is legislative approval from the state.”
Lawrence hopes to have estimates of how much a shared jail would cost before March, as the legislature unanimously approved to reconsider a resolution to authorize $44 million in serial bonds to finance construction of a new jail.
“We want to have everything together in March, he said. “This is going to be unique in some fashion.”
A shared service Lawrence would be in favor of is sharing plowing and equipment among towns because some town plow trucks cross county roads.
“We’re going to look at other avenues of sharing services,” he said.
Legislator Matt Luvera, R-Catskill, is in favor of sharing services such as the towns’ highway departments sharing equipment and said it is worth exploring.
“There’s definitely a need of shared service between municipalities,” Luvera said. “I’m not sure the jail is the answer.”
While Cuomo’s push for shared services presents a chance to consider a shared jail between Greene and Columbia counties, the main factor will be if it’s feasible or not, Murell said. Discussions with the state Commission of Corrections and a cost analysis need to be done before the shared jail concept can become a reality.
“It may or may not be feasible because of what we would have do for our current jail,” Murell said. “We’ve got a lot to do before we consider it, but we are considering it.”
forced by tax reform
The governor’s proposals are a response to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the controversial comprehensive tax overhaul legislation that Congress passed last week. President Donald Trump signed the legislation into law.
Cuomo has been a staunch opponent of the bill since its inception and is particularly critical of a provision that would partially eliminate itemized deductions for state and local property, income and general sales taxes. The SALT deduction provision that was ultimately passed by the House and Senate allows the deduction of such taxes up to $10,000.
Cuomo strongly criticized the provision as an attempt to extort money from high-tax states such as New York — that also contribute more to the federal government in taxes than it gets back in services funding — to fund several tax breaks the reform legislation provides to big corporations. The governor and U.S. Rep. John Faso, R-19, who were at odds over nuances in the bill, agreed that the SALT provision would hurt New York’s economy by exacerbating the already existing exodus of people from the state.