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Gov. Andrew Cuomo presses county executives for plans to cut property taxes

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Hauppauge, said he favors extending the temporary income tax surcharge on millionaires in the upcoming state budget to pay for more school aid and reduce taxes for the middle class. (Credit: Ed Betz)

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Wednesday for county executives to put cost saving plans in front of voters this November in order to curb rising local property taxes although it doesn’t include school districts.

Speaking to county and local officials at Suffolk County’s H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge, Cuomo said county executives statewide would be required to convene town and village leaders to come up with ways to save money.

Under Cuomo’s budget proposal, measures could include sharing storage facilities and highway equipment, joint purchasing and reducing administrative overhead.

Cuomo’s plan would have to be approved by the State Legislature. County executives would have to present their cost saving plans to county legislatures by Aug. 1. Lawmakers could modify the proposals, but voters would have to be able to consider them in countywide referendums in November.

Cuomo said rising property taxes are driving people off Long Island.

“We can’t afford to maintain this level of government,” he said. “Everyone has to figure out how to do more with less.”

Cuomo’s proposal aims to reduce county, town and village property taxes.

But it leaves out school districts, which account for about 70 percent of property tax bills. Cuomo told reporters, “They’re different audiences, they’re different constituencies. This is about local governments first ... Step one is getting local governments to work together.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, endorsed the plan, and said the county had made strides in making county government more efficient.

“I accept the challenge and I’m confident my colleagues accept the challenge as well,” Bellone told the crowd of state and county officials.

Nassau spokesman Brian Nevin said in a statement County Executive Edward Mangano “supports the concept of reducing municipal expenses to save money for taxpayers.”

Suffolk and Nassau are struggling with budget deficits.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state watchdog in control of the county’s finances, projects Nassau will end 2017 with a $106 million deficit. The Suffolk Legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office pegged the county’s deficit between revenue and expenses at $136 million.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine said the town has made efforts to reduce costs, but he is willing to work with Bellone and other officials to find more efficiencies.

“I think it’s something that needs to be addressed, but we have to start somewhere,” he said of Cuomo’s proposal after listening to the speech.

Romaine, a Republican, noted that school district taxes make up the bulk of local property tax bills.

According to the New York Association of Counties, school taxes made up 67 percent of property taxes in Nassau County in 2015 and 69 percent in Suffolk in 2015.

Stephen Acquario, the association’s executive director, called Cuomo’s proposal “incomplete in scope” because it doesn’t address school taxes and unfunded state mandates, such as requirements that counties pay for attorneys for indigent defendants.

Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) expressed support for the initiative, although he said it may not do enough to lower costs without addressing state mandates and employee compensation costs.

“I’m hopeful for its success, but I’m a little skeptical that real cost drivers aren’t part of this,” said Fitzpatrick, who also attended the speech.

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