Catt. Co. officials: Cuomo sound bites differ from reality

LITTLE VALLEY Since the State of the State address, a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been an ever-evolving tool that has not been rolled out, according to Cattaraugus County leadership.

Members of the county Strategic Planning Committee, to include County Administrator John R. “Jack” Searles, have made the top priority to help municipal leaders throughout the county understand what is required and what to expect when the sound bite and reality do not match up.

“We are going to be dealing with the towns, cities and villages, only,” said Paula Stockman, committee chair. “We know there are some boards that don’t communicate well. We feel it is important that all elected officials get this information. If they are interested, they can ask questions. The first step in this process is education.”

In 2015, for taxpayers to get their rebates, a budget must be developed that is at or under the cap for the entity. By June 1, 2015, a three-year spending plan that saves 1 percent, based on the 2014 fiscal year budget, has to be submitted to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. If the plan is rejected, no appeal process has been made available to the governmental bodies. For Cattaraugus County, 1 percent of the 2014 budget is equal to $523,554.99.

By 2016, a spending plan at or below the cap will have to be developed, as well as the same level of reduction per year for fiscal years 2017 through 2019. In addition to spending decreases, the municipalities will also have to have a plan to grow efficiencies. Those efficiencies can be accomplished through mergers, consolidations and shared services, according to Searles.

“The important thing to keep in mind here, is that these only have to be plans,” he said. “Right now, there is no mandate to implement the plans. That may be coming in the next iteration, however.”

At one point, all eligible efficiencies would have to come from new programs, instituted within the tax freeze plan. That guidance was effectively changed Wednesday, with a new communication from New York state officials, Searles said. Now, the shared services and other measures that are in operation will count, so long as they have been instituted since the start of the tax cap.

An area where many municipal leaders may be interested in looking for merger and shared services is in local school districts. The county government is prohibited, by state law, from negotiations with BOCES, but is able to talk to school districts.

Searles told the lawmakers that one of the things they need to be prepared to hear from constituents is that they did something wrong because their rebate isn’t the $300 “promised” by Cuomo in recent sound bites.

“Even if you do everything right, the rebates will be much less than that,” Searles said. “After doing the figures, as close as we can tell, the county rebate for taxpayers will be about $27.53, a far cry from the $300 the governor said.”

Taxpayers will receive checks for the amount their taxes go up in the years of the program, according to state guidance. Each entity will be in a different check.

The first one, for coming school taxes, is expected to be out in October. The second round will include school, county and municipality rebates and is expected in October 2015. The final check will not have a school amount in it, but local and county credits, and is expected in October 2016. To be eligible for the rebates, all criteria must be met.

However, the three entities are exclusive of each other. If the school district does not stay within the guidelines and does not become eligible for rebates, the other two may still be available, so long as they meet requirements of the program.