The town and county portion of my property tax receipt came in the mail today. (This comprises about 1/3 of my total property tax bill – the government schools take the other 2/3). I found their new itemization of uses of tax funds to be interesting. Years ago I noticed that in my TOWN offices, there were prominently displayed signs indicating just how few of our property tax dollars are dedicated to the town, most goes to the county and the schools (which is true). You’ll still see these signs in the local public libraries for example.
So, now the county is getting in on the game – saying in effect, “yeah, your taxes are outrageous, but don’t blame us, most of those taxes are because of something ELSE.” Well, the county is basically blaming all of its spending on state mandates. And statutorily this may be true. What is “hilarious” about this is that this is a proof that “split the check” political economy is a miserable failure, and this is the state-level precursor to the end of fiscal federalism at the national level. But if we all just “apologize” for it and indicate that it’s “beyond our control” then maybe taxpayers will just forget about it and keep ordering the lobster when we split the check.
So, here is what my count budget document tells me:
By the way, I’d love to see more detailed tax-progessivity studies done. Almost all of these county services (basically a large majority of the 85% of the mandated stuff) is really “City of Rochester” services in disguise. We just don’t call it that. And most of the value of assessed property falls outside of the city but within county lines. For example, I basically own the cheapest house in one of the “snazziest” suburbs in Rochester (it’s a relative term, my house would probably be considered a slum in places like Suffern, NY or the exurbs of Boston), all of the residential neighborhoods near me are quite nice. These folks are paying property taxes, large property taxes in fact, to fund services to the city. This is highly progressive and this is on top of the income tax code. For example, I paid in county mandated fees alone $1,453 last year (well less than 25% of my total property tax bill by the way, on a $187,000 house). I certainly am not claiming anywhere near that annual amount in services benefits from the county for those mandates (i.e. that does not include the taxes I pay for parks, roads and libraries which I DO make great use of). This is on top of my state income tax, which is highly progressive and of course the federal income tax that is rebated back to the states to implement some of these mandates.
I’m not surprised that one of the fastest growing areas of Rochester happens to be just south of me in the next county over: Victor, NY. It is in Ontario County, whose “urban cores” include Geneva (at the north shore of Seneca Lake) and Canandaigua (at the north shore of Canandaigua Lake). The taxes in Victor are obviously lower than they are here. I would be willing to bet that folks are trying to think of ways to tax people who commute from Victor to work jobs in the city of Rochester such as at the U of R with some sort of commuter tax which will be proposed as a way to “make non residents pay for the use of roads and vital public services” but will really just be a thinly veiled justification for more revenue grabs to fund more “unfortunately mandated” state and federal programs.
Oh and one last thing – the teachers in the government schools have absolutely perfected this kind of bait and switch. Talk to a teacher about why the spending at government schools is so outrageous and why outcomes are stagnating or why we continually hear about their precious budgets being squeezed despite smaller enrollments today and despite increased funding per student today, and quickly you will hear an argument that “mandates” weighing them down, and of course that “textbook corporations” are driving the educational process. I’ll leave that without comment for today.