After residents object, tax cap override passes
YATES COUNTY—The Yates County Legislature voted to override the state mandated 2 percent tax cap during the regular meeting Monday, Aug. 12. This followed a public hearing where six members of the 40 person audience spoke against the measure. Mark Morris was the only legislator to vote no.
According to the local law, the override allows the county to exceed the “limit on the amount of real property taxes that may be levied by Yates County...and allow the Yates County Legislature to adopt a budget for the fiscal year 2014 that requires a real property tax levy in excess of the ‘tax levy limit’ as defined by general municipal law.” County Administrator Sarah Purdy said this action is recommended by the state comptroller’s office in order to avoid penalties for exceeding the cap, even if it is due to an unintentional mathematical error, and does not necessarily mean the county will exceed the tax levy limit. She also said the county does not yet know what their tax cap would be set at because the 2 percent limit is not actually set at 2 percent, requiring a calculation to be done after the state provides them with pension information.
Resident Dwayne Weldon said he considers last year’s 14.7 percent tax increase “a loan from the taxpayers to our local government,” because they were unable to meet their budget obligations. He said regardless of what the formula says, the legislature needs to find a way to live within it. Weldon said he “thinks the legislators who failed us need to be replaced,” and he would oppose any legislator who votes to override the tax cap.
Resident and legislative candidate Gary Montgomery asked the legislature if they would be able to wait until the tax cap was calculated before passing the law, allowing the residents to know what it is before doing so. Purdy said it technically did not have to be passed that day, but “the clock is ticking,” because the override needs to be approved before the adoption of the budget. Legislator Tim Dennis said a local law like this requires a public hearing, which needs to be posted 30 days prior to adoption. He said if it was delayed the county would only incur more expense from having to re-advertise the public hearing.
Lifelong resident Patrick Doyle also spoke against the measure, saying the recent increases in taxes have made it more difficult for people to stay in Yates County. He said he holds all the legislators accountable for raising the taxes 14.7 percent.
Dennis said he is not proud of voting for it, but the 14.7 percent levy increase last year would not be a yearly occurrence. County Chairman Taylor Fitch said most counties feel the tax cap is a “Trojan horse” that diverts attention from state representatives to address spending troubles at the state level. He said the county had a 0 percent tax increase in three of the last six years prior to the 2013 budget. Fitch added if the levy had increased 2 percent each of those years, the county would not have had to raise taxes by 14.7 percent last year, while also having more money in reserve. Fitch said the most important thing a county has is fund balance.
“If you run out of fund balance and you are at the mercy of whatever the budget is,” Fitch said.
Legislative candidate and Italy Supervisor Margaret Dunn said the legislature needs the public’s help when it comes to putting together the budget. She said after attending the legislative committee meetings, she is not sure what else the county is able to do unless some needed services are cut.
“They need to know how you want them to do it,” Dunn said. “The only way they can know this is if we become educated.”
In other business:
• The county approved the filling of a vacant adult protective caseworker position and a children services caseworker position. Legislator Doug Paddock said the adult caseworker position is vacant due to a retirement and the child services caseworker position will open up due to the lateral transfer to the adult caseworker position. Paddock wanted to make it clear the county was not authorizing two new positions.
• David Strickland gave a presentation on 4-H to the legislature in which he described how it contributed to his success growing up. He said 4-H is not just about agriculture, and that its public presentations helped to bring him into the open. Strickland said if the funding had not been there for the program, he would not have had the same opportunities he had or have the ability to stand up and talk in front of a group of people.
• District Attorney Jason Cook also gave a presentation to the legislature about his department. He said the goal of his department is in “finding and seeking to do the right thing in each case.” Cook said the recent spike in hard drug usage in the county along with child victim and domestic abuse cases have been some of the more prevalent crimes in the community that his department works to fix.
• The county accepted the donation of a 24-foot Boston Whaler patrol boat from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, declaring the old patrol boat as surplus.