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Orchard Park spearheads effort to modify tax cap

Orchard Park’s frustration with the state tax cap’s “ill-conceived” and “inadequate” limits led town leaders to petition the governor for change and to fire off 3,000 emails to towns and villages all over New York.

Within hours after the send button was hit Thursday morning, replies, calls and enthusiastic emails of support were arriving at Town Hall.

“This is democracy in action,” said Councilman Mike Sherry, who launched the email project.

The 5-year-old tax cap law, intended to limit budgets for municipalities and schools, mandates that new budgets must limit spending to the lowest of two options: no more than 2 percent higher than the previous year’s budget or below the consumer price index.

Until this year, the town of Orchard Park managed to stay under the cap. The 2015 rate was 0.73 percent. Fixed expenses like retirement and health insurance forced the town to ignore the cap and raise taxes by 5.7 percent.

Orchard Park and other municipalities keep the numbers down by putting off infrastructure improvements, like road repair.

“It’s leading to poor decisions,” Sherry said of the cap. “One third of the roads in New York are in fair to poor condition.”

He now hopes that other municipalities will chime in and help persuade the governor to make a change so the cap can be followed without harming service and savings.

“At a certain point, complaining about something can begin to sound a lot like whining,” said Sherry, who believes local governments have the best view of the cap’s flaws. “The hope here is that by rolling up our sleeves collectively – those most knowledgeable of the people’s needs – the governor will understand how much this is beginning to hurt and cause problems.”

Assemblyman Michael Kearns, who represents Orchard Park, West Seneca, Lackawanna and South Buffalo, said he will begin exploring legislation to change the terms of the cap.

“It gets more difficult every year with the shrinking budgets,” Kearns said. “There’s a difference between controlling your appetite and not eating.”

Note: News Staff Reporter Michelle Kearns and Assemblyman Michael Kearns are not related. email: mkearns@buffnews.com