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Devil is in the details with Cuomo's property tax rebate program

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Devil is in the details with Cuomo's property tax rebate program
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ALBANY, N.Y. -- In this year's budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders established a tax freeze that would mean rebates for property owners.

It is tied to a certain list of requirements by elected officials, including staying within the tax cap during year one and showing efforts to consolidate and economize in year two.

While it sounds pretty straightforward, the devil is in the details.

For Cuomo, it was a key piece of the 2014-15 state budget was a plan to limit property tax increases over the next several years through a rebate program.

"Property taxes is about the growth of local governments and that is about a problem that has plagued this state," Cuomo said on April 15.

But local governments that would be impacted by the property tax plan weren't as pleased when it was first proposed. The program requires local officials to cap their tax increases and then find ways to share services with other local governments in order for property owners to receive a rebate check. Cuomo's original plan was altered to include a look-back period to count previous and ongoing local government savings.

"It's not being as top-down, it's more structured in a way that local governments could take account for what they've already done in the shared services area," said Peter Baynes, executive director of the Conference of Mayors.

But the budget does not say how far back the state Division of Budget will go in terms of counting prior efforts to cut costs and share services.

"We think the budget division will be reasonable in taking into account things that local governments have done which continue to generate savings going forward," Baynes said.

Then of course there is what wasn't in that finalized budget agreement and that includes a perennial concern from local government advocates here in Albany: Relief from crushing state mandated spending.

"We're not going to stop that call. It's just too important because we have to provide local services, mental health services, public health services," said Stephen Acquario, executive director of NYSAC.

In addition to curtailing mandates, local governments continue to insist that the best way to reduce local property taxes is by increases state aid to municipalities -- a move Cuomo has proposed, arguing more spending isn't the answer.

"That's the most effective way to generate property tax relief -- to share progressively generated revenues so that they could provide property tax relief," Baynes said.

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