Unquestionably, we live in difficult economic times. Today, at every level of government, we see fiscal crisis. Revenue has not kept pace with rising costs. Timid public officials can think of no exit from this financial quandary except to shrink staff and reduce public services (note, as one example, Rhinebeck’s recent ill-advised decision to “privatize” Town recycling services almost out of existence).
There is another way. The sensible and fair action to maintain the welfare and livability of our communities in times of budgetary crisis is to increase revenue. To do so, we must overcome the failure of leadership that currently afflicts us. No group of government officials, elected to address and resolve the issues and problems of governance, has the right to eschew increasing revenue — be it finding new sources of revenue or increasing current taxes. To refuse to exercise the option of increasing revenue in the face of a budgetary crisis is either sheer indifference or malfeasance.
As an argument against raising taxes to match steeply rising costs, much is made of New York’s Property Tax Cap which limits the annual growth of property taxes to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. Less frequently cited, however, are the law’s ample provisions for exceptions whereby, for example, tax caps for counties, cities, towns, villages and special districts can be overridden by a vote of at least 60 percent of the local governing bodies (read Town Boards). In addition, “special districts” (e.g. fire or library districts) are especially privileged, requiring only a voters’ majority to exceed the tax cap.
The business of government demands, obviously, a balancing of revenue, overhead, and expenditures for goods and services. Overhead can be controlled somewhat by “belt-tightening” or by cutting staff and reducing pay and benefits (further reducing, by the way, government’s ability to perform). However, prices for most goods and services procured are the result of marketplace conditions and are normally way beyond the ability of local governments to influence and contain. These constantly rising costs are the most critical factor in driving local budgets skyward in 2012.