MAYVILLE - All indications point to the County Legislature attempting to override the state's property tax cap this fall.
"If there was any other option, we'd take it," said County Executive Greg Edwards on Friday.
For Chautauqua County, the tax cap's 2 percent limit equals an increase of $1,188,663. What needs to be paid to the state over 2011's costs, however, totals six times that.
According to figures provided by legislator John Runkle, R-Stockton, the county will pay $7,273,000 more to the state in 2012 than it did in 2011. Individually that's a $2,773,000 increase in Medicaid, a $2 million increase in the county's retirement contribution and a $2.5 million increase for social services and health programs.
"In short," Runkle told The Post-Journal, "I do believe that the tax cap is a very good idea. Unfortunately, there were no provisions set forth in the state legislation to allow for local mandate relief thereby making it very difficult, if not impossible, for local municipalities to meet the tax cap requirement. The math just does not work."
County Executive Edwards called it "extortion" in conversation Friday.
Every year, Albany demands more money, Edwards said. This year, the bill was $6 million more than what county officials were expecting.
"It's extortion because we have no capacity to say no," Edwards said. "Then, to make it look like they're doing something important, they send this artificial cap obligation to us saying that we cannot raise taxes more than $1.188 million.
A primer on the key provisions of the property tax cap can be found online with this article at www.post-journal.com. The document was put together by the New York State Association Of Counties and includes the specific details of what it will take for the county to override the tax cap as well as the combined situation of all the state's counties.
The estimated total state tax levy in 2011 for counties was $4.5 billion, which limits growth in 2012 to $90 million under the 2 percent tax cap. State increases to counties, however, will total $279 million more in 2012 .
In comment to The Post-Journal, Runkle stressed that it is not his intent to "get into the blame game." However, he said, "it seems very strange that our state representatives would support a 2 percent state tax cap without any associated mandate relief."
"Enacting this 2 percent tax cap while at the same time increasing state mandated county budget costs by 12 percent makes absolutely no sense to me," Runkle said. "In this case, we are being told to hold our budget to 2 percent while the state is increasing that same budget by 12 percent."
Edwards said state officials further "added insult to injury" this year by refusing to carry legislation to Albany which would have increased the county's sales tax rate. Then there's the county's other rising costs, which, when combined with what's owed to Albany, add up to the county's $18 million deficit in 2012.
"You realize very quickly that, with the 13 percent of our budget which we have control over, we could eliminate everything except for the basic security services and we wouldn't meet the 2 percent cap," Edwards said Friday. "That's eliminating veterans, seniors, economic development, planning and everything we do and we couldn't comply with this artificial cap. So I have no doubt that the legislature is going to be called on to exceed the 2 percent cap because the state's made it an impossibility. It's impossible without having any control over the other 87 percent of our budget. It's beyond frustrating."
To override the limits of the state's 2 percent property tax cap will take a vote of 15 or more legislators at budget time.
The state is not charging the county an increase of $2,773,000 in Medicaid. The increase over last year's Medicaid payment comes as a result of how the county chose to budget in 2011.
The cost of Medicaid increases roughly $773,000 each year. Last year, the county used $2 million in one-time federal stimulus revenues to offset its payment to the state. With that money not available this year and surpluses depleted, the county now has to shore up that $2 million amount as well as the $773,000 increase.