Otsego mulls hiking taxes beyond state cap

Ruffles

 Otsego County will hold a public hearing Wednesday, Sept. 2, about exceeding the state-mandated property tax levy limit for 2021.

The county’s Board of Representatives had a first reading of the local law Wednesday, Aug. 5. The August meeting was held via Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live because of the coronavirus pandemic. The executive order that allows such meetings was set to expire that day, but some county officials said they expected an extension.

Otsego County Attorney Ellen Coccoma said if the executive order was extended, it does include ways the public can comment on proposed laws. If the order is not extended, then the board could hold an in-person public hearing in September.

Either way, several representatives expressed opposition to the idea of exceeding the property tax levy limit.

Board Chair Dave Bliss, R-Cherry Valley, Middlefield, Roseboom, said the penalties for going over the cap are so severe that many municipalities pass a law to exceed it as protection. He said with so much unknown about the 2021 budget right now, it makes some sense to pass the law and allow the board the option.

Otsego County Treasurer Allen Ruffles said 2020 revenue shortages are holding steady at projections of about $12 million. However, he said the New York State Association of Counties now projects Otsego County will lose between $2.6 and $8.3 million in revenue next year. As with the 2020 losses, the bulk of the lost revenue will be from state aid and sales tax.

Ruffles said the state missed another self-imposed deadline to notify counties of a revenue formula for 2020.

“They’ve just gone silent,” he said. “They’re waiting on the federal government. The federal government, I guess they have not gone silent. They just are not getting any closer on negotiations.”

Ruffles said he is asking all department heads to look at which services they provide that are mandated by the state or federal government, and those services are going to have to be priorities in 2021.

The county did get good news about funding CHIPS highway payments, he said, which will allow abut 10 miles of paving this summer. Otsego also got a $540,000 payment from the state for past due E-911 money, Ruffles said.

However, the group which handles Airbnb payments of bed tax money recently informed the county of a startling fact, Ruffles said: from April through June there were no short-term Airbnb rentals in Otsego County.

“So they owe us zero dollars (for that quarter),” Ruffles said.

The county is beginning the 2021 budget process without knowing the full numbers for the 2020 budget, he said. If state revenue questions are not answered soon, or if tax revenue continues to fall, the county’s low property tax is going to be up for debate.

“You only have two options here,” Ruffles said. “You can raise revenues or you can decrease services.”

In other business Wednesday:

• Public Works Chair Pete Oberacker, R-Decatur, Maryland, Westford, Worcester, told the that board culvert and bridge work on county Route 16 would keep the road closed for most of the month.

Oberacker also told the board the county suffered only minor storm damage from rains on Monday, Aug. 3.

• Bliss told the board the county is making preliminary steps to comply with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order on community policing. He said he had reached out to Lee Fisher, the president of the Oneonta Area NAACP, for some possible candidates for a citizen review board to look at the Otsego County Sheriff’s Department’s policies and procedures.

• Board Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon, told the board a court ruling has possibly put Herkimer County back into the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank. Kennedy, who is also the vice chair of the Land Bank, said Herkimer had not given the proper six-month exit notice for leaving.

“We really have been trying to work with them,” she said.

• As part of a consent agenda, the board unanimously agreed to be represented by the law firm Napoli Shkolnik PLLC in a class-action lawsuit about the price of generic prescription drugs.

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