Comptroller: State economy challenged but improving

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, March 14, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, March 14, 2012. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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A cautiously optimistic state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli told New York village and town leaders Tuesday that the state economy is improving but faces lingering challenges from the most recent economic downturn.

"We're still dealing with the aftereffects of the Great Recession but the good news is that we are pointed in a good direction with jobs rebounding, but not at the robust levels we'd like to see," DiNapoli said in a speech to several hundred village and town elected officials at a meeting of the Association of Towns in Manhattan.

He credited job growth with spurring economic improvement and said the state's pension fund is healthy because of recent Wall Street gains.

DiNapoli lauded local leaders whose fiscal austerity, such as consolidating town services, has them meeting the state's 2 percent cap on property tax increases.

"We see 90-percent compliance," said DiNapoli, who encouraged village and town officials to reach out to his office for help balancing, reviewing and auditing their budgets.

"We are here to work with you and help in these challenging times," he said. However, he said state revenues to local municipalities are expected to remain flat because of the effects of the recession.

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget proposes a two-year property tax freeze for residents if their local governments stay within the 2 percent tax cap. During the second year, these local governments must show Albany they have reduced costs in order to remain under the tax freeze.

But towns and villages that DiNapoli credited with making these changes are not eligible under Cuomo's proposal, something that should be changed, said Town of Hempstead Councilwoman Dorothy L. Goosby.

Hempstead has met the 2 percent tax cap in the past three years and has not raised property taxes, the Democrat said. But the town faces a shortfall because of snow-removal expenses, she said.

Extending the tax credit to towns and villages like Hempstead will offset weather-related costs, she said.

The town cut costs by putting solar panels on the roofs of government buildings, Goosby said.

"We've been frugal," she said. "We save money on electricity and we make sure our employees are accountable and work the eight hours they get paid for."

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