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Opinion: On Tax Rates

Written By Editor on 9/16/16 | 9/16/16

By Matthew Avitabile

Earlier today I read some spirited comments about why New York State ranks first in the country in residents leaving. It's a topic I think about a lot and have seen constantly in my time in office.

There are some fundamental issues that drive the massive taxation the state is known for. Some programs are left on 'autopilot' by Albany while others are actively gouged by lawmakers.

I give Schoharie County lawmakers credit on certain aspects of tax policy. However, cumulative effects of fundless mandates from the state, mistakes of past boards, flooding, economic conditions, and more have made it a very difficult proposition. It seems even many that attempt to tame the beast are unable to even get their plans off the ground.

A little bit of background from where I'm coming from. Before I became mayor in 2012, our village tax increases were completely out of control. The previous twelve budget years saw taxes increase eleven times for a cumulative total of 53%, or 2.66% a year.

2.66% a year? That might not seem so bad. As a matter of fact, some years that is lower than the rate of inflation.

However, compound interest makes even that figure unbearable for many families. Those on fixed incomes, steady incomes, or just starting out can't afford the extra money out of their pocket.

As Einstein said, the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.

We tightened our belts mightily. Our Village Board members took a pay cut for two years to help balance the budget and together with our current and previous Village Clerk did everything in our power to work on every single line of the budget. Many hours were taken trying to save even dollars. At one point while I was a Village Trustee I cleaned the office's toilets to save us $800 in costs.

We also understood that raising taxes on those that could afford it the least, especially right after the flood, would help drive out those on the margins. We knew that businesses couldn't be asked to give "just a little more" after mortgaging their future repairing flood damage.

Over the last five budget years we've increased taxes one time, just one percent. That was only because of the costs associated with a lawsuit. Before and after we didn't touch it at all. Zilch.

Part of the reasoning behind that was our effort to cut costs. That did work, and we did employ multiple elements of making more with less, such as new energy efficient lighting, new insulation in the sewer plant, and doing a lot of work (including most grant writing) in house.

However, there are other factors at play that can help lessen the tax burden for property owners. About half of our budget comes from that line item and the rest comes from an assortment of sources. About 5% comes from a cell tower contract negotiated by my predecessors and renegotiated by our board has been very positive. Cooperation with surrounding municipalities, community groups, and our local fire department has been wonderful and a key factor in driving down long term compounding costs.

There are efforts that our municipalities and county can do to lessen the tax burden. Such a burden is too high already and many efforts, including Governor Cuomo's tax cap, don't do enough to solve the underlying problems. Bringing business into this county and retaining all of our residents should be on the top of the agenda. I know it is for us in Middleburgh.
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Norie61 said...

Can't compare ur large town to smaller towns like Gilboa without businesses. Living in one of the 'richest" towns in the county, my Town Board and it's town workers get paid more then any other Town employee in a 3 county area? My town has to have a new truck every year,or some other piece of equipment. My Town Highway Superintendent does not lift a shovel, yet gets paid close to $65,000 a year. My town raised the 2% Tax Cap to help pay the bills then gave hefty raises and now every taxpayer in this town will be penalized by not getting the Tax rebate checks for doing so. Between the Property tax Rebate and then the School Rebate we lose about $300.00 each. So much for keeping it's residents here.

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