Allegany County, NY, legislators are being urged to appropriate $10 million from surplus funds to significantly reduce property taxes, the sales tax or a combination of the two.
Allegany Hope Executive Director Casey Jones, who also is editor of its Community News, made the comments at a public hearing last night on the 2023 tentative county budget.
Jones was the only member of the public, outside of government officials, to attend the proceedings, with six of the 15 county legislators – John Ricci of Cuba, Debra Root of Scio, Gary Barnes of Wellsville, James Rumfelt of Andover, and Janice Burdick and Philip Curran of Alfred Station – being absent from the little over 20-minute proceeding.
Nearly 100 individuals, as of this writing, have accessed the Livesteam of the hearing, primarily this morning, which is available at http://bit.ly/3EovrOT.
Jones termed the county’s ongoing action of carrying large fund balances as a “continuing extortion of the taxpaying public” in Allegany County, saying it meets the definition of “the extraction of a grossly excessive charge for goods or services” under budget conditions presented.
County’s taxing policies onerous
He said the taxing policies are “particularly onerous” for the low-income elderly, disabled and others who struggle to pay property taxes and buy basic necessities and also “significantly impinge” upon the lives of others.
The organization leader maintained that the current budget proposal is “bloated,” continuing past practices which, in 2021, resulted in the county ending up with millions of dollars in revenues over expenditures, resulting in maintaining high levels of surplus while still having a major portion of nearly $9 million in federal pandemic funds unspent.
He also described last fall’s moving of $7.5 million from surplus, or what could be termed the county’s “slush fund,” to a reserve of no stated specific plan for economic development as being a “razzle dazzle” approach which keeps the money under Board control but out of plain sight.
Jones cited a State Comptroller’s report on “Understanding the Budgeting Process” which notes that “underestimating revenues and/or overestimating expenditures could result in the collection of more real property taxes than are necessary.”
“Just in case” appropriations
This is a process being used in Allegany County government, he alleged, with several department heads during September meetings saying they had budgeted monies “just in case” there is a need, which helps lead to increasing the surplus.
He also said that legislators, during a September 27 multi-hour meeting with department heads, failed to ask basic questions of what departments are seeking to do going forward, is there an overall plan, and is there a capital plan for anticipated large costs which could occur in the future.
“What continues to concern me about this entire process is the apparent lack of overall planning as it relates to the budget,” the speaker said, with legislators failing in “setting priorities up front and what it is looking for to serve the people.”
Jones said that use of $10 million in surplus funds would result in a one-third reduction in property taxes or a half percent reduction in sales tax. This morning, however, in an email to legislators, the director said he misspoke and that with $3 million already applied in the tentative budget, the sum would result in a 23.5 percent additional reduction in property taxes. The tentative budget currently is projecting a 3.07 percent decrease in the real property tax levy.
Ongoing taxes decrease
He also pushed back against allegations that a reduction in one year would lead to a tax increase the next year, calling them “confused thinking and false,” providing an illustration showing the lesser taxes would continue every year, particularly with the county’s history of budgeting and surpluses, unless unexpected circumstances arose.
“In other words, taxpayers would get to keep their money and use it for their own needs and purposes, rather than the county sitting on it and building its own bank account at the expense of taxpayers,” Jones said.
He said that legislators should “rectify this year the injustice which has been placed upon taxpayers for the past several years and to tighten up its budget-making practices through solid planning.”
The full eight-minute presentation is available on the county’s Livestream.
Public hearing restrictions
Prior to opening the session for public comments, County Administrator and Budget Officer Carissa Knapp said the county only would be presenting information on the expenditure portions of the budget and not revenues.
She also said the hearing wasn’t for the purpose of commenting or debating “the value or necessity of any particular agency or programs” and said the public should take up those subjects with their individual county legislators.
Photo from Livestream: County officials listen as public comment is taken during last night’s public hearing on their 2023 tentative budget. From left are Brenda Rigby Riehl, clerk to the Board of Legislators, County Legislators Chairman Philip Stockin of Houghton, County Administrator and Budget Officer Carissa Knapp, County Attorney Allison Carrow, and County Treasurer and Deputy Budget Officer Terri Ross.
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