Towns sharpen pencils to earn state tax break

ANCRAM—Here’s an oxymoron: Government Efficiency Plan.

Seems unlikely, but it’s real, and if a municipality doesn’t file one of these plans by June 1, the state government won’t give taxpayers who live there a property tax rebate.

Did that get your attention?

A 2014 State Law brought us the Property Tax Freeze Credit and “encourages local governments and school districts to generate long-term tax relief for New York state taxpayers by: sharing services; consolidating or merging; and demonstrating and implementing operational efficiencies,” according to the state Division of the Budget website, (www.budget.ny.gov/govEfficiencyPlans/govEfficiencyPlans.html)

“To ensure that taxpayers receive a Tax Freeze Credit in the second year of the program (2015 for school districts and 2016 for local governments), each local government and school district must file a Government Efficiency Plan [GEP] by June 1, 2015.”

So in the first year, the jurisdiction must comply with the 2% property tax cap and in the second year (this year) the jurisdiction must again comply with the tax cap and develop and implement a GEP determined to be compliant by the state Department of Budget in order for homeowners within that “local government unit” to receive the “Freeze Credit” or a property tax rebate.

At the May 21 Ancram Town Board meeting, the board passed a resolution committing its best efforts to implement its portion of the county plan.

In a follow-up phone call this week, Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin told The Columbia Paper that municipalities must devise plans that show how each one will save 1% of the municipality’s 2014 tax levy.

In Ancram, the levy was $800,000, so the plan must reflect an $8,000 savings.

In Columbia County, the county government is acting as lead coordinator so all participating municipalities, including towns, villages, fire districts, libraries and other special taxing districts are part of the county’s plan, which will outline a total of $600,000 in savings, Mr. Bassin said.

Municipality supervisors and the county fiscal officer must sign certifications that they “agree to undertake its best efforts to fully implement by the end of the local fiscal year beginning in 2017 the cooperation agreements, mergers, efficiencies and/or shared services specified in this plan.”

School districts are also participating.

In Ancram because the Town Board is always discussing ways to save money, Mr. Bassin said it did not take him long to put the efficiency plan together. In fact, his draft plan has a list of nine cost-saving measures that total $45,739, some of which the town has already implemented.

The list includes:

  • Eliminate deputy building inspector position
  • Reduce lawn maintenance costs by having Highway Department do the work rather than outsourcing
  • Reduce truck maintenance by replacing a 1993 and 2003 truck with two 2015 trucks
  • Reduce assessor clerk hours and costs by using county resources via intermunicipal agreement and better scheduling of appointments
  • Retain local kennel for lost dogs at $25 per night to avoid $305 per-night fee at ASPCA
  • Reduce highway costs by buying a leaf blower to eliminate outsourcing leaf blowing costs
  • Prepay $240,000 garage loan
  • Complete zoning revisions and highway intermunicipal agreement.

Mr. Bassin said the state’s idea of promising a taxpayer rebate is “clever way to get some leverage” and “not a bad way to go about getting voters interested in putting some pressure on local managers” to save money.

But how much is this tax rebate and when is it coming?

That depends, state Department of Budget spokesman Morris Peters said by phone Wednesday.

The size of one’s rebate is based on one’s tax bill and all its pieces, such as school taxes, county taxes, town taxes, village taxes, special district taxes and whether officials responsible for all these entities have submitted a GEP.

To be eligible for the credit, homeowners must meet the requirements for the STAR property tax exemption: that the property must be the homeowner’s primary residence and the total household income must be $500,000 or less.

The rebate check will come from the state and “as a general rule, the freeze credit will fully reimburse eligible homeowners for increases to their taxes imposed by all jurisdictions that comply with the eligibility requirements. The freeze credit will be the greater of: the actual increase in the homeowner’s tax bill, or, the previous year’s tax bill multiplied by an inflation factor (the lesser of 2% or inflation). For 2014 the inflation factor for school districts is 1.46%.

“Homeowners whose tax bills go down, stay the same, or increase less than the inflation factor will receive a credit equal to the previous year’s tax bill multiplied by the inflation factor,” according to a handy state Property Tax Freeze Credit Sheet link www.budget.ny.gov/pubs/press/2014/ptfc/rp5301fs.pdf.

Participation in submitting a GED is encouraged by the state—not mandated, but the benefits of participation are two-fold, Mr. Peters said. First, taxpayers get a check directly in the mail and the efficiency measures set forth in the GEPs may actually lower costs to taxpayers permanently.

The three-year plan provides for three checks to taxpayers over three years starting sometime later this fall, he said.

To contact Diane Valden email

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