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Will Sullivan lawmakers override tax cap?

By Fritz Mayer
October 26, 2011

Sullivan County lawmaker Jodi Goodman, who is chair of the budget committee, released a letter on October 21, requesting that county manager David Fanslau create a tentative budget that stays within the new property tax cap increase imposed by Albany of 2%. That came two days after she said it was too early to tell what would happen with the tax cap.

Counties have the authority to override the cap with a supermajority vote of the legislature; in Sullivan’s case, that would mean six out of nine legislators. Goodman said, however, that lawmakers should trust governor Andrew Cuomo’s word that Albany will reduce mandated county spending.

So far that hasn’t happened to any significant degree. Counties are looking to a fourth year of increased spending due, in part, to the increased costs of state mandated programs, such as Medicaid and payments for the pension system, while still looking at weak revenues from sales and property taxes as well as reduced state aid.

County manager David Fanslau had earlier said that without specific direction from the legislature, he would develop the tentative budget within the cap. Still, except for Goodman, with all of the seats up for election on November 8, most incumbent county lawmakers have not indicated if they would support the overriding of the cap.

The only politician at the county level who is out front in calling for overriding the cap is lawmaker David Sager, who is not running for office this year.

At a meeting at the government center on October 13, Sager told his colleagues that they neededthe flexibility of being to able to lift the tax higher than that. He said, “Overriding the cap does not mean that we get to spend money in a reckless way. All it says is that the state’s demands are really unreasonable, based on what they’re providing us and what we have to provide to the public, and we need that wiggle room, and people need to understand that.”

Lawmaker Alan Sorensen, who does not face an opponent this year, indicated that something would have to change regarding the 2012 budget. He said, “We have a shortfall of about $10 million and an unreserved, undedicated fund balance of approximately $10 million, and so we know other things are going to have to change. We can’t just spend the entire fund balance.”

Last year, the legislature voted for no tax increase, and sought to avoid layoffs by withholding raises and longevity payments to unionized county workers. The unions fought the move and eventually the county backed down. But ultimately 17 county workers lost their jobs and some 37 unfilled positions were eliminated.