Members of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet are fanning out across New York to outline his budget proposal before business groups, organizations and legislative bodies. On Monday, Essex County Supervisors heard the recap and questioned key points of the plan.
Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government Dede Scozzafava was dispatched to the Essex County Government Center in Elizabethtown to outline Governor Cuomo’s “Built to Lead” budget agenda. "We’re going to be taking you through some of the key points of the governor’s annual State of the State message and also the budget and at the end opening it up to questions."
More than hearing, or re-hearing, the budget outline, the presentation is an opportunity for people to comment on and question the governor’s plan. For a half hour Essex County supervisors queried Scozzafava on topics such as prison closures, special use districts, broadband and the proposed minimum wage increase.
Among the top concerns raised by Essex County leaders is the tax cap – which is below 2 percent this year.
Willsboro Republican Shaun Gilliland says while he’s concerned about a number of issues, the tax cap is the most critical. “Towns and counties have gotten to the point now that we have no maneuver room. We’re limited by the tax cap and we fund ourselves through property tax and we don’t have the economic base. You know that’s unsustainable. So what have municipalities and counties been doing? They’ve been eating down on their fund balances in order to maintain within the tax cap. So now we have no room. We’re struggling.”
Supervisors told the governor’s representative that rural communities need to move to full-time paid EMS services. But Wilmington Independent Supervisor Randy Preston, who is vice chair of the board of supervisors, told Scozzafava there has been a lack of response and help from state officials. “As I travel the state and down to conferences this is happening in rural New York everywhere. And it’s exploding budgets. It’s blowing the tax cap right out of the water in staggering amounts.”
Preston adds that tax cap restrictions on emergency services is a critical issue that New York officials must address. “It is for rural New York. There’s several departments in Clinton County and their budgets have more than doubled. There’s three in this county that have exceeded the tax cap and it’s specifically was because of our emergency services coverage. So it’s happening everywhere and it’s going to continue to happen. So this problem is going to continue to mushroom and it’s going to blow the tax cap right out of the water and we were really hoping that Department of Health officials would recognize this as a crisis.”
Town of Moriah Supervisor Republican Tom Scozzafava, a distant cousin of Dede Scozzafava, likes the governor’s proposal to provide more aid to schools. But he is opposed to the idea of increasing the minimum wage to $15. “That will have a dominos effect. I’m not saying working people that are out there supporting families or even when they’ve hit the age of 18 and older, I can support that. But you know if I hire 15, 16, 17 year olds that’s going to have a lot of impact.”
Scozzafava says there are a number of items in the budget that will benefit the North Country region. “You’ve got tourism dollars. You’ve got infrastructure dollars. And the big thing is broadband. Also the economic development funds. You know the tax cap doesn’t stand alone. There was supposed to be a tax cap which controlled property taxes, which I think it’s doing that job, but there’s also supposed to be an infusion to stimulate the economy so the economy can grow and the tax base can grow. You don’t look at one thing without looking at the other.”
Scozzafava traveled from Elizabethtown to Speculator to present the governor’s spending plan. State legislative committees are reviewing the proposed budget plan.