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Genesee County Manager says state too dependent on local governments

BATAVIA – Armed with a new report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Genesee County Manager Jay A. Gsell says that New York State’s excessive dependence upon local governments to subsidize its budget is the driving force behind high local property taxes.

“We’re tired of being beat up by the state and portrayed as the villain when the root evil of high property taxes is the fact that over one-seventh of the state’s revenue comes from local governments,” Gsell said Monday.

According to Pew Trust data from 2013, states received an average of 2 percent of their revenue as transfers from local governments. For New York, the number was 15 percent – nearly four times as much as the next two states, New Hampshire and Wyoming, which were at 4 percent.

The report indicated that among those states that require municipalities to pay for part of the health care costs incurred by Medicaid patients within their jurisdictions, New York’s local governments “make a particularly large contribution.”

Gsell said Genesee County pays nearly $10 million annually for Medicaid – money that “Albany sweeps out of our accounts on a weekly basis.”

He said Medicaid is the biggest ticket item, followed by large financial commitments in the areas of probation, prekindergarten enhanced services and indigent defense.

Gsell said that if the state was to absorb the Medicaid local share over the next three to five years, then the tax rate in Genesee County would be lowered significantly – from the current $9.86 per thousand in assessed valuation to about $7.12 per thousand.

“That’s real property tax relief and not the Albany two-step we are seeing and hearing since Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo made local governments, in general, the property-tax problem children of why New York State is less attractive to new business and industry,” he said.

Last month, Genesee County submitted its state-mandated government efficiency plan – a prerequisite to residents’ receiving tax rebate checks in the fall of 2016.

The county, in conjunction with several towns and villages, documented projected local savings of approximately $14.3 million for 2017 through 2019, an amount much greater than needed to lower the tax levy by 1 percent each year.

Gsell said the state is using this as a public relations move – “sending out tiny rebate checks” – while avoiding the big picture.

“The governor continues to put out nice little sound bites about the tax cap (on local property tax levies) and rebate checks, but that won’t solve the problem,” Gsell said.

“A real solution depends upon the state acknowledging and addressing what is shown with such elegant simplicity by the Pew Trusts analysis.”