Yesterday when I attended the Governor’s State of the State Message the Governor challenged local governments to do more sharing—to find ways to cut spending, avoid duplication and save dollars. The town of Greenburgh has been working with the six villages –Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Irvington, Elmsford, Tarrytown trying to find additional sharing opportunities. One recent success story: the villages no longer have separate property assessors. The six villages used to have independent assessing units. Not anymore!
This is one benefit to taxpayers that came about as a result of the reassessment – our first reassessment since the 1950s. Now that there is an updated assessment of all properties located within the town it made no sense to have a village assessor and a town assessor. The villages and town are relying on the same info.
The village of Tarrytown will save $12,000 annually on a part time assessor position. They will also not have to pay for tax certiorari attorneys who deal with property assessment appeals – upwards of $60,000 annually for their work. The other villages will save significant dollars too.
Please find below a link to the HudsonIndependent story and transcripts of the Governor’s remarks relating to taxes and cutting costs.
ELIMINATING DUPLICATION IN GREENBURGH STORY—ELIMINATING SEPARATE ASSESSORS
TRANSCRIPT OF GOVERNOR’S STATE OF THE STATE MESSAGE AS IT PERTAINS TO GOVERNMENT WASTE
We have to cut taxes. We’ve cut taxes on the state side, but we have to do more. Now, $1,800 is the median income tax. Median state income tax. Median property tax, $4,700. You pay high taxes, don’t be mad at me. I’m only that little yellow bar. See that little yellow bar? And by the way, I’ve reduced that little yellow bar every year. $1,800. Property taxes are what is killing this state. Killing this state. Two and a half times what the state income tax is. We have the highest property tax in the United States of America. Westchester County, highest property tax in the United States of America. Just think about that. Think about it. And Nassau is number two. Upstate New York, by percentage of home value, has the highest property taxes in the United States. Average property tax—Westchester $11,000, Nassau 10, Suffolk 8, New York 5, USA $3,000. Look at the differential.
This hurts people on fixed income, this depresses the home value. People look at homes to purchase in Westchester, their mortgage payment is going to be less than their tax payment. Now, we’ve talked about this for a long, long time. Well, that’s just your thing Andrew Cuomo. No, there was another Governor also. Important fella. FDR, 1932. He was focused on this like a laser. Increase in real-estate taxes is due wholly to the increase across the local government, not state government.
These taxes on real-estate are too high. Local government has been guilty of great waste and duplication—FDR. He was focused on it, he was working on it. He was called away to a different job, he left it behind, I’m picking it up. We have to do something about property taxes. Now, I have tried everything on property taxes. I have tried being charming, I have tried seduction, I have tried incentives, I begged, I pleaded, I threatened, it is very, very difficult. The one thing we have been able to do so far is pass a property tax cap. Property tax cap said if a locality goes to raise the property taxes by more than 2 percent, they have to get super majority. The 2 percent, at that time, property taxes we’re going up 8 and 10 percent a year. They were going up higher than the rate of income. Higher than the rate of home appreciation. Why? Because when you’re a politician, and they bring you the budget, it’s always easy to say yes. Yes. We want more parks, yes. Parks are good. We want more busses. Yes, busses are good. We want more meals for seniors. Yes, seniors should eat. You ever hear anyone say, no, seniors should not eat. Everyone’s on a diet. It’s too easy to say yes. So without any discipline, without any check, it continually went up and up and up. The property tax cap has saved $16 billion. Including $4 billion here in the Mid-Hudson. Average homeowners have saved 2,100 just by the property tax cap. But there’s more to do because the waves in duplication are still too high.
Westchester County for example, 425 local governments. Now think about what this means. Every morning, 425 local governments open their doors, 425 light switches, 425 electric bills, 425 Xerox machines, 425 cars, 425 local governments, 790 elected Chief Executives and legislators. I like politics. Do you really need 790 elected Chief Executives and legislators? 580 lawyers. I’m a lawyer. That’s a lot of lawyers. 580 lawyers. Equipment etcetera. There must be savings that we can find by working together. I am telling you, these 425 local governments in that county very rarely come together, sit together, plan together, cooperate together, and find out how to save money. It’s not even human behavior. They don’t even want to do it. They would rather keep to themselves and you have your own government and you run your own government and you have everything that you need, rather than having to work to share. I understand the instinct. But we cannot afford it any longer.
And the cap has been very helpful, but we want to not just slow growth, we want to reduce the number. I believe if you put these 425 local governments in the room and the county executives stood here and said ‘We’re going to stay in this room until we figure out how to save money. Because not everybody needs to buy a new road tractor every 2 years, we can share. Not everybody has to go do their own purchasing of police cars, we’ll do one big order and we’ll get a great economy in scale. Not everybody has to have their own HR department, we can all cooperate and do an HR department.’ There have to be ways to find savings! Imagine if this was a private corporation in Westchester, with 425 branch officers, all basically performing the same service, right? Fire, water, sewer, roads, all basically doing the same thing. But all doing it in total isolation, without any coordination with any of the others. It is insanity, insanity! Now everybody is proud of the town they live in, I’m in Newcastle, Mount Kisco, Chappaqua, Bedford, everybody is proud of the town they live in. Great! But does it really matter to you if they are sharing dump trucks? Right? Does it really matter if they’re sharing road building equipment or if you’re doing common orders on equipment and police cars etc.? Of course you can save money. We just have to make the effort. And the reason we haven’t? Because it’s not a private corporation and there is no profit incentive and because it’s nobody’s money. Its taxpayers money, it’s nobody’s money.
So yes, there’s always the easy answer. But what we want is a plan this year that the county executive brings together the local governments, the communities, the business leaders, stakeholders to create a plan to share services, find efficiencies and reduce costs. The county executive will say, “I’m not empowered to do that’. They’ve said that to me. ‘Nobody’s ever asked me to call together the local governments.’ I said, ‘Well you’re the county executive, nobody has to ask you. You’re the county executive, call them together.’ ‘Well they won’t come’. I say “They’ll come, they like you. You’re nice. They’ll come. Offer cookies and donuts.’ This will be a program where the county executive brings them together, finds ways to save money, and put together a plan, how do you share services, find efficiencies, and reduce costs. Take that plan, and put it on the ballot in November so people can vote on the plan. And the citizens can vote yes or no, and the citizens can tell you whether they think you’re doing a good enough job spending their money or not. It’s about time people have a say in how their money is spent.
If the citizens reject the plan, the county executive and local governments go back to the drawing board, come up with a new plan and they put it on the ballot for the next year. And they keep doing that until the plan is actually improved. It is a way to empower our citizens to actually make a difference because until the citizens get into the game, it’s not going to change. Because it is too just to keep on doing it the way they’re doing it. I have done everything I can. What the county executives will say is ‘Do you want property taxes to come down? Well, the state should pick up our costs.’ Now, by the way, I have picked up a lot of the costs for counties. I picked up the largest cost, which was the growth in the Medicaid program. Cost the state billions of dollars, saved Westchester County something like $56 million. But, the point is not to transfer the cost, it’s to reduce the cost. If you transfer the cost to the state, all that means is that I have to raise the state’s taxes. And what’s the difference? You pay from one pocket or the other. It’s not reduce county taxes, raise state taxes, we want to lower both. I have this conversation with my daughters. They’re on a budget. They get X amount per month, and they’re supposed to live within that budget, that’s the concept of the budget. You get this much money, you spend this much money.
What they like to do is they’ll call and they say ‘I need a new jacket.’ I say, ‘Ok, buy yourself the new jacket.’ “Well No, no, because then it won’t fit within my budget, I need you to pay for the jacket.” I said “Well that defeats the purpose. If I buy the jacket, then you didn’t really live within the budget.” It’s not transfer the cost to the state, it’s actually reduce the cost to the taxpayer between the state and the locals. I have cut the state. I will continue to cut the state, but you’re paying 2.5X as much in property taxes and that is what has to change and that has to change now. Because we’ve done everything else that we’ve can. And I’ve tried every way I can do it. I’m telling you, unless the citizens get into the game, it’s not going to change. And the opposition to this is going to be fierce. Because it’s going to be the entire political class is going to oppose it.
So I’m going to need the people of this state to stand up and speak loudly and say ‘We’re tired of paying these local property taxes.” Do at your local government what I did in my home. The way I had to sit around my kitchen table and figure out how to save money when the economy slowed down. And how to take less trips and how to find money to save here and there. Let government go through that same exercise because they can tighten their belt the same way every person in this room has tightened their belt.