In full inquiring mode, the Inquiring Taxpayer has a question for Canandaigua City Council, the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, and the Canandaigua School District. Please explain where you stand on Governor Cuomo’s insistence that the 2 percent property tax cap be made permanent.
The governor is steadfast, saying that he will accept no new state budget that does not make the cap permanent. Most legislators seem to agree, if for no other reason than a desire to be re-elected. But apparently there is some opposition. Why is that? Why would anyone oppose putting an annual cap on New York State’s immodestly high property taxes?
Thus I bring the issue to our three local taxing jurisdictions. You would do the citizenry a valuable service by explaining your views on the cap and by explaining in detail what mandates the state imposes on you, both the nature and the costs of these mandates.
In essence, the tax cap, signed into law in 2011, requires local taxing jurisdictions to hold annual property tax increases to either 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Municipal officials can vote to override the cap. School districts have to put an override request to a public vote.
Of course, this being a tax issue, my simple explanation does not cover all the ins and outs, ups and downs, twists and turns, and accounting gyrations of the property tax cap. State guidelines explain permutations affected by tax base growth, payments in lieu of taxes, tort actions, allowable levy growth, and the number of plastic straws per capita. When it comes to government and taxation, mere mortals are advised to just pay up and shut up.
A simple 2 percent cap would not allow for the employ of battalions of administrators, advisors, committee chairs, and special commissions. It would do grave harm to the illusion that complex work, far beyond the comprehension of the average taxpayer, is being carried out on our behalf by legions of experts toiling long hours in Albany offices.
This being my version of “Taxation For Dummies,” I’ll just go with the 2 percent.
To their credit, our city, county, and school district have stayed comfortably below the 2 percent cap since its implementation. While local residents’ property tax rates are in the top 10 percent nationwide, those rates have held remarkably steady in recent years.
The Inquiring Taxpayer, as you may know, questions the archaic system that requires property owners to foot the bill for services that are extended to all citizens. The local police department and public schools are not prone to assist citizens according to the assessed value of their homes. Does anyone think that Thruway tolls should be paid only by owners of private vehicles? Should drivers of rented and leased vehicles not pay tolls? Should the tolls for the owners of private vehicles vary according to some appointee’s assessment of the vehicle’s value? And should some wealthy private vehicle owners get toll exemptions because they are deemed to be “economic development” assets?
The “new normal” involves giving unnecessary tax breaks to businesses, and we taxpayers are supposed to swallow that. The “old normal” involves the little guy property owner footing the bill for everyone’s local services and, far from getting tax breaks for community service, getting penalties if he/she comes up a dollar short. The “old normal” is apparently beyond re-thinking.
Nevertheless, even a flawed instrument can be improved upon. The 2 percent tax cap may be just such an improvement. We citizens need to learn more from those intimately involved.
Last year Canandaigua City Council passed a resolution opposing the federal tax reform bill’s $10,000 “cap” on the federal deduction for state and local taxes. As we now know, after long consideration of city council’s resolution. President Trump and Congressional Republicans went ahead with the $10,000 cap.
Now we are faced with another tax cap, one that is much closer to home, one that pertains to all local property owners. For that reason it is important for the city, the county, and the school district to reach out to those who support you with their tax dollars. Explain your positions on the 2 percent tax cap and why? And let us know whether you have expressed those positions to our local Albany representatives?
I believe that the pages of this newspaper would be open to your responses.
And I believe that the taxpayers would welcome your input. It is an issue that may not be close to our hearts but is certainly close to our wallets.
Joe Nacca of Canandaigua is a frequent contributor to the Daily Messenger.