Friday, April 25, 2008

And The Meet Goes On

Property Tax Commission Holds 8th Public Forum

Summary of the Eighth Commission Meeting
April 23, 2008
12:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Chancellor’s Hall – State Education Building
Albany, New York

All Commission Members and four Special Advisors were present at the final public Commission meeting prior to the release of the Preliminary Report on May 22. More than one hundred individuals were in the audience and an additional thirty-two individuals provided testimony.

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills welcomed the Commission to Chancellor’s Hall.

Chairman Tom Suozzi, in his opening comments, discussed the charges of the Commission, including the examination of mandates and other root causes of high property taxes. He noted that Governor David Paterson’s first veto, which was issued today, was of a bill that imposed a mandate on local governments.

Expert testimony was provided by Robert Lowry, Deputy Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. Mr. Lowry shared the Council’s perspective on school funding and some of the issues charged to the Commission.

The Commission also heard expert testimony regarding special education from Rebecca Cort of the State Education Department.

Host Mayor Gerald Jennings discussed the importance of high quality education in city school districts.

Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino detailed the mandates the state imposes on county governments and the impact those mandates have on property taxes. She suggested that, if the state committed to providing no further mandates on counties, that counties would welcome a cap on county taxes.

Alan Lubin, Executive Vice President of New York State United Teachers, discussed the effect of property tax caps on education in California. He provided the union’s position on various proposals to reduce the costs of public education. He suggested that the Legislature, rather than consolidating the school districts themselves, should consider regionalizing some of the non-educational functions. He concluded that property taxpayers need relief, but that relief should not come at the expense of education when there are administrative areas where significant savings could be achieved.

John Lincoln, President of the New York Farm Bureau, discussed the importance of agriculture to New York’s economy and communities. He noted that, while a cap on school tax levies could reduce tax increases, a cap on assessments, similar to what is done in California or elsewhere, would not control taxes.

Calling for implementation of the Commission’s recommendations as soon as possible was Richard Bivone, President of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce.

John Whiteley, who has attended almost all of the Commission’s meetings and many of its roundtables, spoke on behalf of Tri-County Committee for Property Tax Relief. His organization advocates for an immediate property tax circuit breaker and a shift of school funding from the property tax to the income tax.

Speaking on behalf of the Ulster Committee on Property Taxes was Susan Zimet, who also serves as an Ulster County Legislator. Ms. Zimet testified regarding the urgency of property tax relief and reform.

Robert McKeon of Tax Reform Effort of Northern Dutchess provided statistics demonstrating the impact of a property tax cap on taxpayers and education in Massachusetts. Rather than a cap, Mr. McKeon’s organization recommends a circuit breaker be enacted.

G. Jeffrey Haber, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Towns, stated that high taxes are not the result of taxing jurisdictions but of state policy. He advocated for funding of mandates, restoration of state aid, and an end to new property tax exemptions (which shift the tax burden onto non-exempt property owners).

Steven Van Hoesen, Deputy Director of the NYS Association of School Business Officials, presented the association’s position on the various issues of school funding and property taxation and submitted a list of the top one hundred “under-funded” mandates.

The Commission heard additional testimony from the following (roughly in the order of testimony):

Kenneth Pokalsky, Business Council of New York State
Bruce Ventimiglia, Business and Labor Council of New York
Vaughan Smith, Hudson Valley Property Tax Reform Task Force
Bernetta Calderone, Town of Gardiner Resident, Member of
Marlis Momber, Town of New Paltz Resident, Member of
Richard Longhurst, NYS Congress of Parents and Teachers
Bill Batt, Center for the Study of Economics
Richard Young, New York State Teachers Retirement Fund
James Baldwin, Questar III BOCES
Ron Deutsch, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness
Robert Biggerstaff, NYS Association of Small City School Districts
Ken Zalewski, City of Troy Councilman
Mary Evans, Town of Malta Resident
Richard Wray, Town of Ticonderoga Resident
Dick Gladu, Hague Town Board Member
John Peck, Town of Bleecker Resident
Doug Adams, Town of Marbletown Resident, Property Tax Reform Task Force

Preliminary Report

The Commission is expected to release its Preliminary Report on May 22. Additional information, including archived webcasts of the meetings, is available from the Commission’s website:

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