Friday, April 04, 2008

News From The NYS Commission On Property Tax Relief

Hot Off The Presses From Buffalo

Colleagues and Interested Parties,

On April 2, the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief held its sixth meeting in Buffalo. All Commission Members and Advisors were present, as were approximately 60 audience members.

Two remaining meetings are planned prior to the May 22nd release of the Commission's Preliminary Report:
*April 10, 1 p.m at the Syracuse City Hall
*April 23 in Albany (location and time tbd)

Commission staff is in the process of expanding the information and materials available from our website. Please check back often for testimonies from the meetings, white papers and additional documentation -

The Commission will be providing periodic updates on meetings, testimony, news, our website and other related information via this email list. If you would prefer not to be included on this list, you can remove yourself by visiting

Thank you for your interest in the work of the Commission.

John C. Reid
Executive Director, New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief
80 South Swan St, 29th Floor
Albany, New York 12210
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Meeting Summary

Sixth Commission Meeting
April 2, 2008 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The Sixth Meeting of the New York State Commission on Property Tax Relief was held at the new Health Now/Blue Cross/Blue Shield facility in downtown Buffalo. All Commission Members and Advisors were present, as were approximately 60 audience members.

Commission Members heard from sixteen speakers today, most of who represented the school and local government communities.

Chairman Tom Suozzi opened the meeting by discussing the charges given to the Commission to address high property taxes statewide. Three of New York’s southern suburban counties – Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk - are among the highest taxed (per household) counties in the nation. Several of New York’s upstate counties (Wayne, Niagara, Monroe and Erie at the top of the list) have the highest tax rates in the nation.

Speaking on behalf of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Janet Penksa (Commissioner of Administration, Finance, Policy and Urban Affairs) described the importance and variability of State Aid, the impact of mandates on city finances and the need for New York State to work with the city to develop additional revenue streams. (Similar to Rochester, where the most recent Commission meeting was held, Buffalo is one of the “Big Five” City School Districts in which education is funded through the city budget.)

Lynn Marinelli, Chair of the Erie County Legislature, also spoke of the need to address expenses and mandates. She asked that the State “impose a moratorium on unfunded mandates and cease and desist all cost shifts.” Ms. Marinelli stressed the effects that mandated costs have on property taxes and economic development.

Niagara County Legislator Andrea McNulty spoke of Medicaid as the single largest cost that counties bear, comprising two-thirds of the county property tax burden in Niagara. She also spoke of the need for schools to pursue cost savings through consolidation and service sharing opportunities.

Andrew Rudnick, President and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, presenting on behalf of the business community, spoke of the disincentives that high property taxes represent for both businesses and individuals to stay and locate in New York State. He spoke in favor of a property tax cap and other relief measures.

Donald Ogilvie, Superintendent of Erie 1 BOCES, advocated for school districts to pursue additional efficiency and effectiveness measures. As one example, he spoke of the school and municipal energy co-operative that is providing low cost energy for many of the school districts and municipalities within Erie, Chautauqua and St. Lawrence counties. He suggested that efficiency measures and other cost and spending reforms be pursued prior to a tax cap being enacted.

Robert Bennett, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, who wasn't originally scheduled to testify (and testified last) said that the Board of Regents had contracted to do a study (underway now) regarding school district structure. He specifically noted that the study does not assume that "the current structure is the right structure." He went on to provide an extensive list of school district and administrative functions where regionalism/shared services might be appropriate. He ended with a strong pro-regional message, asking the question, "What if we had 62 school districts with more county involvement?"

Additional speakers (roughly in order of testimony) included:

David Smaczniak, Member, West Seneca School Board
Terry Keeley, Supervisor, Town of Portville
Joe Tette, Business Administrator, Wilson Central School District
Ramona Popowich, President, Williamsville School Board
Ernest Cowel, Watchdogs of the Southern Tier
James Anderson, Regional Board Chair, Citizens Action of Western New York
Satish Mohan, Supervisor, Town of Amherst
Maria White, Majority Leader, Erie County Legislature
Roger Cook, Issues Committee, Working Families Party of New York – Western NY Chapter
Ellen Kennedy, Board President, Citizens Action of New York

Prior to the May 22nd release of its Preliminary Report, the Commission will meet in Syracuse (April 10) and Albany (April 23). Additionally, roundtables with Commission staff continue to be held statewide.

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