County Board Moves Toward Lifting Tax Cap

County Board

Moves Toward

Lifting Tax Cap

Action Possible At Sept. 2 Meeting

County Board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, proposes lifting the state’s 2 percent tax cap during deliberations on the 2021 county budget. At right is county board Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Middlefield, New Lisbon.

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Freshman Rep. Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, seconded Bliss’ motion, which must now go to public hearing.

COOPERSTOWN – Facing a fiscal crunch, the county Board of Representatives today took the first step toward freeing itself from the state’s 2 percent property-tax cap in preparing its 2021 budget.

At its August meeting, county board Chairman David Bliss, R-Cooperstown/Town of Middlefield, “put the law on the table,” and freshman representative Clark Oliver, D-Oneonta, seconded it.

As County Attorney Ellen Coccoma explained it, a public hearing must now be set before the county board’s next meeting, on Sept. 2, to enable the legislators to act at that point if they wish to.

If the county didn’t remove the tax cap and then goes over the 2 percent limit, it would face “severe penalties,” the lawyer said.

Responding to a question from county Rep. Michele Farwell, D-Morris, Coccoma said she’s unsure how a public hearing can be set up to receive public comments, but she’ll research it.  This is the first law the county board has tried to pass since the state of emergency began.

No vote was necessary today, although county Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, signaled his position: “I would just go on record that it’s unlikely I would support it.”

Much of today’s meeting dealt with the shortfalls county government is facing due to the COVID-19 shutdown, which has resulted in shriveling bed- and sales-tax revenues.  Also, the state has been withholding reimbursements it owes the county for money already spent.

In his report, County Treasurer Allen Ruffles reports sales tax revenues are down $7 million; bed tax, $1.2 million, and state reimbursements, $4 million.

“That’s about $12 million for this year,” Ruffles said, about the amount raised by the county tax levy.  He added, “We have reserves, but those reserves are going away.”

How the county fares financially over the next few months depends on Congress’ aid package now being negotiated between the Democratic House and the Republican House.  For now, the package is stymied.

Depending what happens, Oliver said, “If we don’t raise property taxes, we’ll just have to think about cutting crucial services.”  Lifting the tax cap would give the county board more flexibility.

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