Waste Watch-Oswego County predicts small rebate checks as mandate debate intensifies

Phil Church, Oswego County Administrator

Marie Schadt began her first term as an Oswego County Legislator and quickly learned there is little she can do to control spending, mainly because more than 80 percent of the county budget goes toward state mandated programs.

Schadt told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon, "We have property values that are some of the lowest in the country and we pay some of the highest taxes in the United States per capita. Afn unfunded mandate is equivalent to telling us, you're going to eat steak every night even though you can't afford to pay for it."

For decades, New York State has gradually shifted the responsibility of paying for its mandated programs from Albany and onto the backs of local county taxpayers. These mandates eat up a big portion of county property tax revenue. In Onondaga County for instance, 100 percent, or every penny of property taxes goes toward programs that include welfare...medicaid... probation and pensions.

In Oswego County, Administrator Phil Church says it's worse," the cost on us uses up all of our property tax levy plus a lot of our sales tax"

Oswego County has joined with the New York State Association of Counties in calling upon state lawmakers to take greater financial responsibility for mandated programs.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says he understands the counties dilemma . He says he has reduced costs on the state level and has placed a cap on the local share of medicaid spending. But he also has imposed a 2 percent cap on property taxes and is now calling for a property tax freeze. To reward the people of those counties which comply with the freeze, the Governor has proposed sending tax rebate checks to each individual property owner.

Church has come up with an analysis. He claims that for the average Oswego County home valued at $94,500, the rebate check would come to $16.07. Church says if the state were to pay for its own mandated programs, the average homeowner's taxes would drop by $514.08.

Church says such a move would reduce the cost of government statewide. "If the state was responsible for the cost of its own programs, then the state would have an incentive to make sure those programs are cost efficient."

Freshman Legislator Marie Schadt agrees. "I wonder what happened to workfare and programs that make people more independent. There are more people in the cart than pushing the cart right now."