The New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) wrapped up its annual meeting in Albany this week where county executives discussed the unique needs of New York’s regional governments.
One prominent issue was consolidation. During his budget presentation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed his push for local governments to share more resources as part of a plan to freeze property taxes if counties stay within a two percent cap.
County executives around New York have mixed reactions to Cuomo's push to make savings of one percent for three years.
County legislators say they agree that New York has to find a way to cut down on its massive property taxes but many say they’re already doing more with less, and have been for a while.
“Because of a stagnant economy but also because of the crushing burden of state mandates, we have been consolidating and sharing,” says Dutchess County Executive Mark Molinaro.
He says one measure his county has already implemented is sharing public defenders with neighboring Ulster County across the Hudson River. He blames the 200-year-old government structure for New York’s duplications and redundancies.
“By incentivizing consolidation and shared services not only are we getting better practices and greater efficiency but we’re rally cutting costs for taxpayers as well,” Molinaro says.
To make ideas and suggestions for government consolidation accessible to everyone across the state, Ulster County Executive and president of the County Executive Association Mike Hein used the conference to launch a website called Pay-Go-New York. Described as a Wikipedia of ideas, the site would act as a resource for counties and tax payers to see how other communities are consolidating their resources.
“It’s very simple," Hein says. "It allows us to protect tax payers primarily from some of the highest taxes in the United States of America. We can no longer burden our taxpayers. That’s not a Republican or a Democrat issue, that’s an everybody issue.”
Not all county executives are excited about the governor’s proposal to mandate what many are doing on their own. Clinton County Executive Michael Zerlo says while consolidation is needed, different regions have different requirements.
“One piece of legislation implemented across 62 counties is not always easy," Zerlo says. "And even if the proposal goes through as is, there are logistics that are very, very difficult that may not even be worth the bang for the dollar.”
Westchester County Executive, and likely GOP candidate for governor, Rob Astorino agrees.
“What the governor is proposing is wholly unrealistic, and in many ways would devastate communities," Astorino says. "And he now is putting the blame on school districts and volunteer fire departments and others to achieve something that’s not achievable in a property tax rebate.”
Astorino says if Cuomo really wants to cut taxes he should focus on changing the rules and regulations of unfunded mandates and give local municipalities and school districts more control to regulate costs at the local level.