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December 07, 2016
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Our high local property taxes: how they hurt

Ken Hilton

Unfortunately, even with one of the highest property tax burdens in the nation, our tax revenues seem inadequate. Our roads are in terrible shape and getting worse. Our towns, villages and county simply don’t have the resources needed to fill the potholes as quickly as they’re created. State and federal mandates exact such huge costs that the primary responsibilities of our local governments are being pushed aside. A good example is the Medicaid burden on Sullivan County, which requires the county to send $394,000 to Albany each week (more than $20 million annually). It’s only one of many onerous costs that our local officials have little control over, and that increasingly make it difficult to pay for the important services primary to the responsibilities of local government, like providing additional sheriff’s deputies. And with the state tax cap and stagnant state aid, local school districts annually find themselves facing cost increases, many beyond their control and far greater than new revenues can support. The likely result? After depleting their reserve funds, larger class sizes, program cuts and employee lay-offs. Education services for children—a school district’s primary responsibility—are being squeezed by the costs of pensions, health insurance and contract settlements.

What can we do? Is it possible to lessen our local tax burden without further harm to the local government services that we so greatly need? The next installment in this series of articles will examine proposals coming from Albany and recommendations from non-partisan studies. In the meantime, watch for the April 1 release of the New York State budget. It will include recommendations of its own.

[Ken Hilton is a former Sullivan West Central School District superintendent.]