Cuomo pushes counties to find efficiencies

Governor says plans must be submitted to voters

County governments across the state would be required to come up with new government efficiency plans and get them approved by voters under a new proposal made Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The plan, the latest of nearly two dozen State of the State proposals Cuomo has unveiled in recent days, would require county leaders in every county outside New York City to come up with new government efficiency plans within the next few months, and to submit them to county voters in referendums this November — forcing the counties to make cuts or explain to voters why not.

Cuomo said his goal is to reduce local property taxes, which he described as the “most burdensome tax” home owners and business owners face. “By challenging local governments to create a plan to streamline government bureaucracy for voter approval, this innovative and powerful initiative would empower communities and lead to real, recurring property tax savings,” Cuomo said.

Cuomo’s proposal would require approval by the state Legislature, making immediate implementation of any plan highly unlikely. Indeed, during his State of the State speech in Westchester County on Tuesday, Cuomo predicted deep-seated opposition from the “political class.”

On Tuesday, some local county leaders were hesitant to provide immediate responses to the plan, which contains a number of specifics that could change. Generally, however, county leaders are quick to point out that much of county government tax is due to the mandates handed down by the state, including a 25-percent share of Medicaid costs.

Saratoga County leaders, for example, often point out that the level of state mandates just about equals the county a tax levy. Montgomery County officials say state mandates account for 59 percent of the county’s tax levy.

“The reality of the $56.9 million in property taxes we collect, all but $300,000 is for state mandates,” said Saratoga County Administrator Spencer Hellwig. “In terms of efficiency, that isn’t a problem for Saratoga County, we have been operating efficiently, it’s why our taxes are so low. It’s a mindset we have had for decades.”

Citing the local government tax cap among his prior achievements, Cuomo’s proposal would require each county outside New York City to have its chief executive or county manager develop a plan for shared and coordinated services among all levels of local government within the county, excluding school districts. Public hearings on the plan would be required, with a plan to be submitted to the county legislature or board of supervisors by Aug. 1, with a referendum on the plan to go on the November ballot. His proposal would provide that the executive’s plan would go on the ballot automatically if the legislature takes no action within 45 days of receiving the plan.

“The resulting plan must demonstrate real, recurring savings in costs and not simply shift burdens to other taxpayers,” Cuomo’s office said. “The focus on the plan should be on eliminating or consolidating duplicative services, and all shared services and efficiencies proposed in the plan must be new actions.”

If a plan is rejected by voters, Cuomo’s proposal would require development of a new plan for voters to consider in November 2018.

Hellwig said a more general concern with proposals like Cuomo’s and the state tax cap Cuomo also championed is that it reduces local autonomy; most local governments upstate are controlled by Republicans, though all statewide officeholders like Cuomo are Democrats.

“Ultimately we have the state or some other entity making it harder for a county to control its own destiny,” Hellwig said.
While Saratoga County has had a growing economy and population for decades, Hellwig noted that even developing the efficiency plan could place a burden on some smaller counties.

Seven New York counties, including Hamilton County in the southern Adirondacks, don’t have a day-to-day manager or administrator, according to the New York State Association of Counties.


Categories: News, Schenectady County

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