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Scozzafava highlights Cuomo budget, hears local concerns about taxes

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The state budget is likely just a few weeks from adoption, but Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is still gathering concerns from municipalities about its impact on them.

To that end, former Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava, now deputy secretary of state for local government in the Cuomo administration, met with local officials Tuesday at the LeRay Town Hall to present highlights of the budget and listen to concerns, vowing to take the local issues back to Albany.

“The governor wants to make sure his policies are grass-roots driven,” Ms. Scozzafava said.

Ms. Scozzafava came at the invitation of the Jefferson County Supervisors’ Association, which is primarily concerned with the governor’s proposed property tax freeze, according to Justin Taylor, Clayton town supervisor and association president. The state has instituted a 2 percent cap on property tax increases, with the governor proposing that homeowners in jurisdictions that come in under the cap receive tax rebates. Ms. Scozzafava said one way to accomplish this is to encourage municipalities to become more efficient by consolidating services.

Mr. Taylor said, however, that many north country municipalities have already consolidated where they can and are running out of ideas for further efficiencies.

“A lot of us are asking, ‘What haven’t we looked at?” Mr. Taylor said. “A lot of us are ready to move ahead, but we really don’t know what the next step is.”

Ms. Scozzafava, also a former mayor of Gouverneur, said the Department of State will, upon request, provide an analysis of a municipality’s services and offer advice on how to reduce redundancies. She said the offer extends to school districts and fire departments, as well.

“The governor is committed to changing the property tax rate and the growth in the property tax rate in the state,” she said. “The governor knows that property taxes are out of line.”

She said the state is also committed to holding tax increases to below the 2 percent threshold.

“There’s nothing the governor’s asking anybody to do that he hasn’t done at the state level,” Ms. Scozzafava said.

She said the governor’s budget includes money to promote tourism in the Adirondacks and on the Tug Hill, including an advertising campaign that she recently saw on television while visiting New York City that touts Tug Hill.

“In my experience, there has not been a governor that is this committed to the north country economy,” she said. “He’s made a real commitment and investment to the area.”

While no school superintendents attended Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Taylor and others said the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which reduces state aid to school districts, will cause districts to exhaust existing fund balances and ultimately exceed the property tax cap. Ms. Scozzafava said she would take these concerns to the administration.

“I think we’ve got some pretty good schools in the north country, but they’re being pushed to the limit,” she said.

State lawmakers are voting on budget proposals this week, which will spur more negotiations, Ms. Scozzafava said. The budget is due April 1.

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