WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Local governments that stay within the two-percent property tax cap and work toward consolidation and shared services will be eligible for a two-year freeze on property taxes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in his State of the State address Wednesday.
There are 10,500 local governments in New York State, which Cuomo said needs to be reduced through consolidation of towns, villages of other taxing districts. He called it a major structural problem that needs to be addressed in order to reduce taxes.
To qualify for a two-year freeze on its property taxes, local governments must comply with the tax cap in year one, and then take concrete steps toward consolidation and shared services in year two.
“If the locality wants the state property tax credit, it must perform. We’ve seen that linking state funding to performance works,” said Cuomo, referencing the state initiative linking education funding with compliance to its teacher evaluation system.
The Westchester County Association said local costs are not the only driver of increasing property taxes.
“Reducing costs is a good thing. However, the real driver of property tax increases are unfunded state mandates — pensions and health care coverage for [public] employees, for example — which can be as much as .85 cents of every property dollar collected in Westchester County. Without mandate relief, the governor's property tax proposal can only go so far.”
The Town and Village of Ossining have 15 inter-municipal agreements with each other that save it considerable money. Westchester County also provides police services for the town, which its Supervisor Susanne Donnelly said has saved millions.
“It’s something you should always be looking at and investigating,” she said. “I’m always for looking for ways to lower costs and find the best way of doing things for the residents of Ossining.”
Ossining town and village share its recreation, finance and engineering departments. The village takes care of the town’s street lighting, water and fuel oil, Donnelly said.
The governor also proposed tax credits for renters and low-to-middle income property owners based on one’s ability to pay. Another proposal would see the corporate tax rate reduced from 7.19 percent to 6.5 percent, and the elimination of the surcharge on utility bills.
"Combined, these measures will stimulate investment and job creation, the Westchester County Association said in a statement. "We also believe that increasing state estate tax exemptions over the next four years to $5.25 million from $1 million today will make our state that much more competitive in attracting corporate headquarters."
As expected, Cuomo also announced his plan to legalize medical marijuana for use with specific conditions in 20 hospitals. The proposal is expected to be implemented through an executive order.
On education, he proposed borrowing $2 billion to upgrade classrooms with 21st century technology and implementing universal full-day pre-kindergarten. Cuomo did not say how this would be paid for.
On safety, Cuomo announced he wants to increase penalties for those with two or more drunk driving convictions. Those with two convictions in two years would have their license suspended for five years, and those with three convictions would lose their license permanently.