NYS Exposed: Is consolidation really the answer for high taxes?

April 21, 2017 12:11 AM

Services you're used to could go away, but you could save money on your property taxes. That's the give and take Governor Andrew Cuomo is offering.

The governor thinks your property taxes are too high. He says the problem is too much local government, too many overlapping services. But the Monroe County executive says it misses the point.

Inside a building on Main Street in Macedon, there is a sign. It reads, "Closed," and says people will return at 5 p.m. It lies. The building used to be the headquarters for the Village of Macedon, which dissolved into the Town of Macedon on March 31 after a community vote.

Supporters said taxes would drop 40 percent. Business owner Janice Worden gave dissolution a thumbs up.

"I just don't see any need for double taxes, double spending," she said. "It's foolish."

Governor Cuomo agrees. He says the reason for high property taxes, so many local governments and agencies across New York State. He says there are 624 alone in Monroe County.

"Not everyone needs to do everything," the governor said. “Not every government needs to have its own purchasing department, its own highway department, its own snowplow department."

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Here's an example of a solution. Neil Murphy is a co-chair of a group called Consensus, which is recommending that the City of Syracuse and County of Onondaga combine into one government. A handful of cities nationwide have a similar setup.

"Most of those tend to be in the South that has actually taken this on," Murphy said. He added the cost savings in those communities has been, "probably in the range of at least 15-20 percent."

But that's not what happened when Jacksonville, FL combined with Duval County. A study authored by researchers Edwin Benton and Darwin Gamble found there was, "no measurable impact on the taxing and spending policies."

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner isn't on board with Consensus's plan, telling us, "The solution to our challenges is not to take away the people's closest level of government, disenfranchising thousands by reducing their voice in representation."

The Onondaga County executive, however, told us, "The report now gives our community a great starting point for further conversation."

Governor Cuomo is looking for more ideas statewide. He's forcing county executives to figure out ways to share services.

"It's called governing," Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said. "We've been doing this forever. We're going to continue to do it... For example, our 911 call center is a collaborative, joint, shared effort.”

She adds, "Recently we entered into a partnership with the Village of Webster to provide IT support services for them as well."

County Executive Dinolfo told us her panel of officials will have a draft plan by August 1, with a final report to follow. But she doesn't think the number of agencies is the issue.

"I really think if we're looking for significant savings for taxpayers, not only in Monroe County, but throughout the State of New York, we really have to look at mandates... My challenge to the governor is to look at what is the state's obligation for providing mandate relief for the counties. I don't think the state is tackling the real issue."

Still, Dinolfo says she will follow the law, and convene the meetings.

Even if consolidation cuts taxes, Worden knows there will be trade-offs. She's already seen them in Macedon.

"With the village, they would put up flowers," she said. "We all paid for them but that was okay. It looked cute. Little benches, you don't see any benches.”


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