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North Salem's Supervisor's Letter to the Governor

June 17, 2011

This is an open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo sent by North Salem Supervisor Warren Lucas.

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Limiting municipalities to a 2% budget increase is a great idea. The problem is that the State is saying one thing and doing another. Local municipalities have few places to go to raise the taxes to do the things that are required of us and many of the things we are required to do are legislated by the State with more items being added every year.

What can you do to help us out? It’s simple. Stop sending the local real estate taxpayer the bills for the laws passed in Albany. Here are a couple of examples.

Pension payments levied by the State are going up at rate of 40-60% per year. In the past the State required municipal employees, like myself, to pay a portion. When things were good the payments by Towns and employees went to $0. Now that a cash infusion is needed the State has determined that they need to catch up over a five year period and levied high dollar amounts. Employees still pay $0. Here is a suggestion, look at the way Connecticut handles pensions. The State of Connecticut pays for the school and local municipalities. Also limit the retirement pension calculations to the highest three years of pay with minimal overtime factored into the calculation. If the State passes the law, the State should pay the bill.

Last year the State passed new Workers Comp legislation to increase insurance payments from $600 per week to $739 per week. The State also removed a secondary source of money for people returning to Workers Comp benefits. It was a noble cause, but what happened to each local municipality’s Workers Comp insurance? An already very high insurance payment went up 35%? If the State passes the law, the State should pay the bill.

New York State and North Carolina are the only two states which require Counties to pay a large portion of the Medicaid tax. For my Town of North Salem, almost 20% of the recent Town/County Tax bill was for Medicaid payments to the State. The State picks the Medicaid plan and the local real estate taxes get a huge portion, 25%, of the States Medicaid bill. Maybe for a good reason Albany selected the “Platinum Plan”.

I could go on with items like Prevailing and Supplemental wage regulations which require municipalities to pay a defined union pay rate and benefits for all contracts rather than bidding to get the best price. Should a flagman get paid about $50/hour on municipal contracts? This has caused many of us in local government to cut back on our projects as we simply can’t afford the costs. If you pass the law, the State should pay the bill.

Courts are suffering. In our Town for every two dollars we spend to run the Court, we get one dollar back in fines and fees. It never used to be this bad. To save money, the State has removed their Troopers from our Courts. In the past they adjudicated their own speeding tickets but now the Towns are required to hire lawyers at almost $195/hour to do that work even though the speeding ticket monies go to the State.

Has the State learned anything from the 2% tax increase mantra that you have been preaching around the State? Yes, but it is again hurting the local taxpayers. Just last week all municipalities received a notice from the State on the School Tax STAR program which provides benefits on School tax stating that “ Beginning with 2011-12 school tax bills, the savings resulting from the Basic or Enhanced STAR exemptions are limited to a 2% increase over the prior year. This will require those who prepare school tax bills to make some programming changes ”. Who makes up the difference in the short term? Guess.

It’s simple Governor. If the State approves any legislation that directly or indirectly increase local property taxes, the State should pay the costs for that legislation and not send it down to us in the form of the local real estate property taxes. Do that and we can keep the property tax increase very low indeed.

Warren Lucas,

Supervisor Town of North Salem

The Daily North Salem welcomes similar opinion pieces. Please submit them to Katherine Pacchiana at kpacchiana@mainstreetconnect.us.

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