Urges voters to hold the line
The Niagara USA Chamber called on voters across Niagara County Wednesday to support their school budget if it stays within the property tax cap, but defeat those that look to exceed it when they cast their votes on Tuesday, May 15.
"The chamber has been a supporter of Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent property tax cap since he first envisioned it when he took office in 2011," said Kory Schuler, director of government affairs for the Niagara USA Chamber. "Now, in the very first year of its implementation, we would undercut the very premise of the cap if districts already begin to break it."
According to the chamber, nearly 92 percent of school districts across the state have proposed budgets that are at or below the cap, including most local districts. However, one local school budget stands out in direct contrast to that number. Niagara-Wheatfield's school budget calls for a nearly 10 percent increase in taxes.
"We understand the pressure that districts are under, but homeowners and businesses are under similar pressure as well," Schuler said. "A local business can't simply raise its prices by 10 percent because things are tough, and school districts shouldn't be doing that either."
The tax cap actually establishes a tax levy limit for each school district. This levy allows schools to increase their property tax levy from one year to the next by 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. There are exemptions that would allow a school district to raise their rate to more than the 2 percent, including "brick and mortar" development, employee pension above a certain rate, and some court orders. If a school district proposes a budget above the 2 percent cap, a supermajority of 60 percent of voters is required for passage.
Schuler said the chamber agrees with school districts and local governments in their call for state mandate relief to help lower costs, but that cannot be an excuse for exorbitant property tax increase.
"We are paying some of the highest taxes in the nation and this obviously hampers growth, resulting in population loss and fewer businesses. The domino effect of that is there are fewer taxpayers shouldering a greater tax burden, which is no longer possible. This tax cap cannot be viewed as an anti-education, anti-teacher, or anti-children campaign. It is truly a way to make us more competitive again as a region and grow," Schuler said.