Resident Tom Manza said, “Actually, I’m here to ask for a 20% tax reduction,” which drew laughter from the legislature because, with the budget situation as bad as it is, a cut is out of the question and a double-digit increase seems likely.
But Manza said he was only half kidding because the value of homes in the county has dropped about 25% due to the great recession; therefore, residents are being over taxed.
He said he was opposed to the legislators voting to override the 2% property tax cap, which was mandated by officials in Albany earlier this year but which can be overridden by the county legislature if six of the nine members vote to do so.
The comment came at a public hearing at the government center on August 16, in which 11 members of the public spoke, with nine of them opposing the override. Gary Maas, the supervisor of the Town of Cochecton, urged the legislature to find places to cut costs. He said, “There are essential services that are just that—essential. But other services need to be examined thoroughly and eliminated responsibly.” He said, “An example might be the adult care center, which operates at a loss and now needs a $700,000 roof. Let the private sector take care of these kinds of services.”
Al Steppich, a council member of the Town of Delaware, was another public official who spoke against the override. He said, “When I first moved back here in 1974—I still have half the farm my dad bought—my taxes were about $400. Now, they’re approaching $8,000.” He also said, “One thing that you can do to raise revenue in this county, if you want to keep on spending like you do, is punch a hole in the ground for gas.”
Resident Carol Benton said she is a widow living on a fixed income and would be willing to sell her house to get out from under the taxes, but no one is buying. She said, “The little dead-end road I live on, when I was growing up, there were four homes. Now, there are 13, and approximately every third one has a for sale sign on it.”
Terri Ward, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Chamber of Commerce, said, “We understand that you guys inherited a mess, we understand that the state enacted this property tax cap without enacting proper mandate relief as a buffer, and we understand that you’re in a terribly difficult position, but we also understand that the businesses and residents of this county are sick and tired of being nickeled and dimed to death.”
Not everyone was opposed to the proposed override. Priscilla Basset, co-chair of the Senior Legislative Action Committee, said she supports the vote to override the cap because the legislature needs the “leeway” to be able to act outside the cap if need be. She also said that the legislature should investigate changing from a property tax “to a graduated income tax, which would be a state decision, and would be much fairer to the taxpayers in the county.”
Resident Ken Walter said a tax increase of more than 2% is unavoidable. He was also one of three people who said that, if the state or the country had “Medicare for all,” that would bring a lot of savings to the county. He said, “If we had Medicare for all, the $17 million you spend on healthcare for employees would not be an expense at all.”
The legislature likely will vote on overriding the tax cap next month.