Chemung County hopes to hold its tax rate steady for the eighth consecutive year, but the county’s chief executive said maintaining an unchanged tax rate will likely be impossible in the coming years as unfunded state mandates cripple local governments.
County Executive Tom Santulli said Monday he believes Chemung’s property tax rate will remain at $6.98 per $1,000 of assessed value in 2013, but only because the county has cut expenses. Eventually, though, there will be nothing left to cut without seriously impacting government services, he said.
“I think we’re reaching the end of the road,” Santulli said.
In 2013 alone, the cost to counties for the top nine state-mandated programs will grow by $244 million statewide, according to the New York State Association of Counties. Because of the tax cap, counties can only generate $114 million in new property tax revenue next year, leaving a $130 million deficit statewide.
“We haven’t seen this type of fiscal shortfall in our lifetimes,” NYSAC President Edward Diana said. “ The deficit is forcing counties to make incredibly difficult decisions. Local leaders are draining their reserves and gutting local programs to balance their 2013 budgets. Very soon, there will be nothing left to cut. At the same time, our costs are pre-programmed by the state and will automatically rise.”
Diana said that without meaningful mandate relief, expenditures will continue to outpace revenues, and Santulli said the trend could lead to fiscal collapse in some counties.
“There are some counties that are going to fold -- 11 are in serious danger,” Santulli said. “You are going to see a lot of city governments -- cities more so than counties -- with control boards put in place.”
NYSAC has proposed 51 ways to reduce the cost of government at both the state and county levels, but Santulli said he doesn’t believe the state is serious about enacting true fiscal relief.
“I really do think the state’s in denial,” Santulli said. “It’s both parties. I see nothing of substance from anybody. Certainly not the Senate, and nothing ever comes out of the Assembly .. the goal in Albany is primarily to get re-elected.”
Santulli said the state’s inaction on unfunded mandates has contributed to the poor economic climate in New York.
“What business would want to do business with New York state?,” Santulli said. “They want to say we’re open for business, but not one’s coming ... This state’s an economic disaster.”
The state’s most expensive mandated programs are Medicaid, pensions, temporary assistance for needy families, child welfare, special education/pre-school, early intervention, indigent defense, probation and youth detention. The mandates cost more than the entirety of Chemung County’s property tax revenue. The county uses almost a quarter of its sales tax revenue to cover the difference.