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In August, St. Lawrence County held a public meeting to begin the process of potentially overriding the 2% property tax cap. Photo: Julie Grant
In August, St. Lawrence County held a public meeting to begin the process of potentially overriding the 2% property tax cap. Photo: Julie Grant

Property tax cap override is possible--but not simple

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School boards and leaders of some counties in New York are already saying they may need to override the newly enacted 2% property tax cap.

They say there might not be enough money to pay for flood damage from two tropical storms and mandated state programs if they don't override the new tax limit. As Karen DeWitt reports, there is a way to override the tax cap--but it's not simple:

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Reported by

Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Some schools and counties are worried that, after all of the damage costs from hurricane Irene and Lee are tallied, they might need to ask taxpayers for more money to repair and rebuild infrastructure.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, who championed the tax cap, says the new rules are designed to allow communities to make the decision to override the cap.

Steve Acquario says it's not that easy. Acquario is with the New York State Association of Counties. He says the tax cap law requires a complex set of steps to achieve an override.

County taxpayers don’t vote directly on budgets, so the 60% rule applies to a county legislature or board of supervisors. A minimum of 60% of the elected representatives in a county must propose a new law that will permit the county to raise taxes by more than 2%.

Then, public hearings must be held with 30 days notice, to discuss the proposed law to increase the taxes higher than the 2% cap. After that, the county lawmakers can vote on the new law, which will require a 60% majority to be approved. Then, they can vote on the county budget. That vote requires just a simple majority to pass.

The Association of Counties says as many as a dozen counties may begin the override process. Several (including Tompkins, Tioga, Chautauqua, and Rockland) are considering hearings, and St Lawrence County has already held a public hearing to consider a new law to override the cap.

Acquario says counties backed the idea of the tax cap, but wish that unfunded state mandates had also been reformed. He says state mandates account for as much as 80 to 90% of some counties’ budgets.
The remaining 10% of county budgets are often programs for seniors, disadvantaged youth, and the mentally ill, Acquario says, leaving little room for cutbacks. He says the only other alternative is to ask tax payers for additional revenue. 

Dave Albert, with the New York State School Boards Association, says some schools in flood ravaged areas are already worried that they will need to ask for more than a 2% tax increase when their budgets are voted on next May.

He says, while schools can enact capital plans that exceed the cap, long term borrowing for repairs and rebuilding won’t pay for everything.

The rules for an override of the tax cap are simpler for schools than for the counties. School boards can propose a budget with a greater than 2% tax increase, and that budget can be enacted if 60% or more of the voters who come to the polls to vote on the budget approve of the tax increase.

But Albert says it might be difficult to convince enough school district tax payers in flood damaged to come up with the extra money.

For that reason, he says school districts in flood damaged areas have begun talking with their state legislators about coming back to the Capitol and revisiting the school aid portion of the budget, to steer more aid to those schools, or at least speed up payments to deal with cash flow problems. Albert says some taxpayers can’t pay their school tax bills right now, and may be granted extensions, as the governor has requested, leaving flood damaged schools even deeper in the hole.

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