Friday, April 11, 2008

NYS Commission On Property Tax Relief Meets In Syracuse

Here's The Scoop From The Home Of The Magnificent New York State Fair

Summary of the Seventh Commission Meeting
April 10, 2008
12:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Syracuse City Hall

All Commission Members and four Special Advisors were present at today’s Commission meeting held in the Syracuse City Council Chamber. Sixty audience members filled the Chamber, with some relegated to standing room only.

Bea González, President of the Syracuse City Council, led the Pledge of Allegiance and welcomed the Commission to the City Council Chamber.

After introducing the Commission members, Commission Chairman Tom Suozzi noted that Governor Paterson has made property tax relief a priority of his administration. Chairman Suozzi discussed the importance of wide-ranging testimony as the Commission develops recommendations to address the statewide property tax issues – while balancing the co-equal priority of maintaining quality schools. He said the Commission has traveled state-wide and has heard from a broad spectrum of interests, organizations and individuals.

Frank Mauro, Executive Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute (a research organization that focuses on tax, budget, and economic policy issues in New York State), presented his organization’s research and findings to the Commission. Among his recommendations was replacing the existing STAR Rebate Program with a “circuit breaker.” (Circuit breakers are employed in several states to provide property tax relief via income tax credits. Based on homeowners’ income, a certain percent of any property taxes paid over a percentage of owners’ income are credited back to the taxpayer via the income tax credit.)

William Duncombe, Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University, testified to the Commission in regard to policy aspects of the STAR Program and some of the potential relief measures the Commission may consider. He advocated: 1) reforming STAR, 2) providing a circuit breaker for lower-income renters and homeowners, 3) increasing State Foundation Aid for Public Education, especially for high need school districts, and 4) including an override provision if a cap on property taxes was implemented.

Joseph Mareanne, Onondaga County Chief Fiscal Officer, delivered testimony on behalf of County Executive Joanne Mahoney. The testimony called for a State takeover of Medicaid, a cap on assessments for senior homeowners, and a review of public school financing and expenditures.

Syracuse Commissioner of Assessment John Gamage spoke on behalf of Mayor Matthew Driscoll and discussed STAR and other aspects of property tax administration.

Bill Meyer, Chairman of the Onondaga County Legislature, discussed the high property tax burden, and also recommended a State Medicaid takeover and mandate reform.

Additional local officials testifying included:
· Dick Gladu, Hague Town Board Member
· Thomas Seals, Syracuse City Councilman
· Linda Yancey, Assessor for the Town of Forestport

Mike Masse, Fayetteville-Manlius School Board Member and Treasurer of the New York State School Boards Association, said that the 2008-09 State Budget (finalized the day before this Commission meeting) was “good news” for New York’s public schools, but did not sufficiently address inequities between high wealth and low wealth school districts.

Testifying with a similar message, Larry Cummings, Executive Director of the Central New York State School Board Association, discussed perceived inequities of the current Public School Aid methodology. He shared findings regarding “low wealth districts/high need school districts” compared to “high wealth/low needs districts” and cases where the latter have received larger State Aid increases than the former. He noted that a property tax cap would “widen the gap” between the low wealth and high wealth school districts. Rick Timbs, Executive Director of the Statewide School Finance Consortium, amplified on the testimony of Mr. Cummings.

Daniel Lowengard, Superintendent of the Syracuse City School District, called for a transition of school funding from the property tax to the income tax and suggested that, if even if mandates were removed, many school districts would continue to provide similar services.

Jessica Cohen, Superintendent of the Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, offered testimony about the efficiencies that BOCES had already demonstrated, and how much potential there was for more “functional consolidation”. She elaborated on a particularly fruitful effort by her BOCES to consolidate around the purchasing of energy – which she indicated had relevance statewide.

Larry Kiley, Executive Director of the Rural Schools Association of New York State, spoke about the particular constraints faced by his members, frequently very small and poor rural districts. He indicated that his members frequently were so strapped that they could only offer the barest minimum of state-mandated programs, and he urged the Commission to consider the impact that its recommendations would have on his districts.

Additional public school representatives testifying before the Commission today included:

C. Thomas Daly, Cooperative Organization for Public Education
Margaret Diehl, Parents for Public Schools
Randy Kerr, Newark Valley School Board Member

David Duerr, Executive Vice President of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, offered the Chamber’s strong support for efforts to mitigate the property tax burden, and urged the Commission to consider the link between its efforts and economic development.

Mark Spadafore, Syracuse Alliance for a New Economy, also spoke to this issue.

Larry Hart, representing the Central New York Property Tax Alliance, noted that his organization is interested in “a total revision of this archaic, severely flawed system of taxation,” but advocated for immediate relief via the circuit breaker bill proposed by Senator Elizabeth Little and Assemblywoman Sandra Galef.

Further testimony was provided by Phil Dann representing the Central New York Property Tax Relief Association. Eight additional taxpayers testified, most discussing their property tax burdens and calling for property tax relief.

Upcoming Dates

The next Commission meeting will be held in Albany on April 23. The goal of the Commission is to release its Preliminary Report on May 22.

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