Monday, November 8, 2010

Tax, Tax, Tax, What are we to do in NYS?

In the midst of budget season, what are we who govern in NYS to do?  NYS is one of the highest taxed States in the Country, with little relief in sight.  Taxing citizens to pay for services has become contagious, even at the local government level in NYS.  Often local governments tax and tax with little thought put on the citizen who is barely hanging on to his or her home.  We have entered a new economy, one that most of my generation has never seen in their life time.  As elected officials I believe it is our duty to get the message to citizens, the more we need to spend on services the more we need to raise by way of taxes.  We also need to become more creative on how and what we tax.  No matter what some say, tax is a necessary evil, sort of speak, if we want to continue to have services like public schools.  The question that needs to be asked is, is it fair to tax property owners to fund school budgets?  School tax is just one form of tax that has some citizens at odds with one another.  Although there has been many discussions on how to fund schools, there has yet been a successful alternative presented to property tax as a way to fund schools.

As far as local taxes needed to fund government budgets go, the solution to lowering these taxes is to cut spending.  Obviously, that is easier said than done, but I believe it can be managed to a minimum. Again, this will take fresh new ideas and thinking outside the box, no longer can we tax and serve, tax and serve, a line has to be drawn in the sand, where to draw the line is the question?

When it comes to taxes in NY I have heard ideas like funding school budgets through a payroll tax, which many think is a much better idea than taxing property owners to fund school budgets.  I have also heard, we should create a "so called" millionaire tax, which is a tax that would be posed on those who make a million dollars or more a year.  These are some out of the box ideas, ones that I think needs to be explored further.

For myself, I have a couple of ideas that would tax discretionary income of individuals in NY, sort of like the bottle or gas tax. 

First, when it comes to funding our school budgets in NYS, I think there needs to be an investigation into the lottery system.  When NYS lottery was first introduced it was sold to us as a way to help fund NYS schools.  I think it is about time we find out just how much of lottery funds go toward our schools. 

The two tax ideas I have are, 1.  We should put a 1 cent tax on every stock traded on the (NYSE) New York Stock Exchange.  There are literally billions of stocks traded everyday on the NYSE and a penny becomes real money when it's being traded billions of times, I don't think it would be severely felt across the financial markets, but it could be a real revenue stream for NY to offset property tax.  Plus, I would rather we initiated this kind of tax before we started taxing millionaires, which I believe needs more research before it happens.  2.  I believe we should put anywhere from a 1 cent to a 5 cent tax on all forms of lottery gambling tickets sold.  Yes, I know lottery is a form of tax, sort of speak, and that NYS collects additional tax on all winning tickets sold in NY.  I also see people who I believe don't have the extra money to spend on such exploits come into a lottery provider and spend a $100 a day.  This kind of spending can be described as nothing other than discretionary spending.  Understanding that we cannot tax a tax or that we should tax a tax, we can call it a processing fee.  Whatever you want to call it, if that many people have that much discretionary money to gamble with, than maybe they should pay a little more to help pay for the services required to serve the needs of the citizens in NYS.

Out of the box? Absolutely, but a person has a choice to pay this tax or not, if you don't want to pay a 5 cent processing lottery fee, than don't play the lottery, it's that simple.  I want to make it clear, I'm not encouraging people to gamble, the opposite, I would prefer to see some of those who play the lottery put their money in the stock market.  It's nice to have a dollar and a dream, which is the lottery slogan, but that dollar should be one that is totally discretionary, not funds needed to feed your kids.

Many may disagree with me, but it's a way to bring in more revenue to help lower property tax without imposing new taxes to NYS residence.  I also would like to make it clear, that every penny raised through such a tax should go directly toward offsetting NYS property tax, PERIOD.

We cannot continue to raise taxes in this State or as has been experienced already, people will flee NYS for a more tax friendly State like North Carolina.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Post Election Blues on the eve of County budget

Waking up to post election blues I watched as Democrats got their clocks cleaned nation wide.  In NY State, we Democrats were able to celebrate the election of our next Governor, Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Scheiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.  We also watched as Democratic stalwarts Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand got elected to the U.S. Senate representing New York, but on many local levels we took a real drumming.  In Columbia County, the candidate I was really pulling for Didi Barrett a State Senate candidate running in the 41st District against long time incumbent Steve Saland got beat handily.  I was feeling really good about Didi Barrett's chances against Senator Saland, unfortunately I was severely wrong in my assessment. 

Observing with eager anticipation I watched as a clear message was sent by the electorate, "we the people of NY" are tired of the dysfunction in Albany, we need jobs and loweer taxes.  As an elected official I'm sure this message isn't only for those on the Federal and State levels, it applies to those of us on the local levels as well.

In Columbia County the Board of Supervisors are proposing a modest taxes increase for this year's budget.  I for one am taking the stance, that the taxpayers of Columbia County need a break, we cannot ask for tax increases this year.  Unemployment is up, home foreclosures are up, residents are barely holding on to homes they have lived in most of their lives.  This is not the type of government I want to represent.  When people show "we" elected officials they need relief, we need to take notice and do what is best, not only for County government but for the taxpayer's of the County.

Over the last three years Columbia County government has grown exponentially, while the average County citizen has lost their jobs at record rates.  We have also been pondering projects that would give County departments fresh new digs by way of renovating Ockawamick.  This has been a controversial project from the start and remains so today.  Although "we" the Board of Supervisors agreed to purchase Ockawamick for future County expansion, this is not the time for such an endeavor, the taxpayer's of this County simple cannot pay for this.

As Supervisor of the 4th Ward in the City of Hudson, I have stated and will continue to state, the taxpayer's in Columbia County need a break from tax increases.  In order for us to do that we as the Columbia County Board of Supervisors need to make some hard choices, but I guess that is why we got elected by the people, to make hard choices.  We need to cut spending, shrink the size of our government and halt all unnecessary projects at this time.  Doing all of this we may be able to present a 2011 budget with zero % tax increase for County taxpayers, I don't believe I can support anything less.

To my fellow County Supervisors, the people of Columbia County cannot afford a tax increase no matter how modest the tax proposal.  I ask you to stand with me by demanding that we hold the line on a 2011 budget of a zero % tax increase.  We can do this, we just need to prioritize our needs and wants.

For those of you who live in Columbia County, call your Supervisor and tell them "NO NEW TAXES".

Saturday, October 9, 2010

County Administrator

Now that the County has begun the process of creating the position of County Administrator, I think I should clarify my stance on the position.  During my last campaign for County Supervisor I stated then that we needed to change the way County government is run.  At that time, I stated we should take a serious look at going to a County legislature with a County Executive.  One of the reasons I was leaning toward this form of government is, this would give us a chance to reduce the amount of Supervisors we current have in the County, starting with changing the number of Supervisors representing the City of Hudson from 5 to no more than 2.

Along with the change in the number of County Supervisors, I was in favor of creating the position of County Administrator or Executive.  With that change, I was looking to make the position an elected position so that the people of the County would have some say about the person who would be running part of County functions.

Now, Chairman Brown has formed a sub-committee to explore the possibility of creating the position of County Administrator.  Chairman Brown, came before the County government committee and made a power point presentation on why he believes we need a County Administrator.  During  that meeting I asked many questions, the first of which was, why are we not considering an elected position instead of an appointed position?  Chairman Brown, along with most of the members of the County government committee was in favor of going with an appointed position instead of an elected one, I disagreed.  I also asked, how long is the proposed term for the new position going to be?  Chairman Brown, responded by saying County Attorney Rob Fitzsimmons is looking into whether the County Board of Supervisors can appoint someone to the position of County Administrator for 5 years.  I immediately said 5 years is to long, given most County Supervisors have to run for re-election every 2 years, I felt it would not be fair to the new incoming Supervisors to have someone who was appointed by the previous Board of Supervisors without having any input to whether that is the person they choose to work with. 

Just from the two answers I got from Chairman Brown, the position would be appointed not elected and the person would be appointed to a 5 years term, I was seriously considering voting NO, once the position came to the full board for a vote.  I'm now a little more comfortable knowing there are laws that do not allow someone to be appointed for a 5 year term. 

This doesn't mean that I am going to vote YES, if and when this is brought to the full board for a vote.  Many questions still remain as to why we need a County Administrator.  As I stated before, I was in favor of creating an elected position of County Administrator or Executive.  That was before we created the position of County Controller.  Many of the scenarios that have been outlined regarding the lag time in the ability to purchase is something that can easily be handled by the County Controller.  Why do we need to create the position of County Administrator, which I feel will be doing a lot of duties that can easily be handed over to the County Controller?  With this in mind, the question begs to be answered, do we need to have a County Controller and County Administrator to run our government? 

As and elected official and a taxpayer, I believe we can do more with less, that means consolidating positions not creating them.  I believe now that we have a County Controller a hard look needs to be taken at whether we indeed need the position of County Controller and County Administrator?  One thing is clear, adding these two positions to the County payroll is going to cost the taxpayer's of Columbia County over $200,000 a year.

Attached is the newspaper article of the first sub-committee meeting to discuss the position of County Administrator.

Register Star Article:

Creation of admin faces hurdles

By Francesca Olsen

Hudson-Catskill Newspapers


Friday, October 8, 2010 2:13 AM EDT

It’s likely that a local law providing for a county administrator won’t be passed until 2011 — not by the end of this year as Board of Supervisors Chairman, Roy Brown, R-Germantown, had hoped.

“It will be December before we get into the meat and potatoes,” he said, “But that’s OK.”

The subcommittee dedicated to researching the new position’s implementation met for the first time Thursday evening to discuss some preliminary concerns.

First on the agenda, County Attorney Robert Fitzsimmons explained that unless the entire Board of Supervisors moved to uniform, four-year terms, it probably wouldn’t be legally possible for a county administrator to have an appointed term over two years.

There is “a term limit provision in the Common Law ... that says a current board can’t bind a future board to somebody” like a county administrator, Fitzsimmons said.

And in order to shift the board to all four-year terms, each of the twelve towns that set two-year terms for their supervisors would have to pass a local law changing the term limits, and hold a mandatory referendum, leaving the decision in the hands of town residents.

If every referendum passed, the change wouldn’t come until the next election — at least two years from the time of the referendum. “That’s unfortunately the process,” Fitzsimmons said.

Ancram Supervisor Art Bassin (D) said he wished he had known this earlier, since he recently “strongly opposed” a supervisor term limit extension in his town.

“It’s not easy to get (the referendum) through, even if you do do it,” said Supervisor Valerie Bertram, R-Stuyvesant.

The subcommittee also discussed the current government structure and how it could reasonably be minimized while still leaving the final deciding power to the BOS.

A county administrator could quickly approve new employees for budgeted positions (rightusually takes at least a month to get approval, leaving departments in a lurch) and simple requests for equipment.

This might allow BOS’ committees to meet less, since they would mostly cover policy instead of personnel and budgetary requests, Bertram said.

“There has to be some authority the person has ... to be able to make things happen ... otherwise, why would you want to put another level of bureaucracy in place?” said county Human Resources Director John Rutkey Jr.

An administrator would also be able to direct policy in the face of BOS turnover — the county has no comprehensive plan or official long-term strategy, and an administrator could take input from supervisors to use for future planning, Brown said.

The BOS and county department heads will most likely be surveyed about what inadequacies they see in the current system, and in the case of the BOS, what powers they’d like to retain.

Bertram said the county would need to “make it known why we’re taking away what we’re taking away (from the BOS) and what we’re going to be doing instead.”

Plenty of other counties have explored the idea of a central figure like a county administrator, some successfully, and the resource of experience will have to be utilized in Columbia County, the subcommittee seemed to agree.

Several people with experience, including Greene County Interim Administrator Dan Frank, will be asked to speak to the subcommittee about their process, and the challenge of implementing such a major change.

The next subcommittee meeting will be held Nov. 4 at 6 p.m., directly after the BOS’ public safety committee, at 401 State St. in Hudson.