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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Changes to property tax proposal lauded by north country representatives

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MASSENA - North country representatives were largely satisfied with the budget agreement reached by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ahead of the April 1 deadline.

Among the late changes to the budget was an amendment to the governor’s plan to reduce property taxes that would give credit to school districts and local governments that have already taken measures to reduce costs.

Gov. Cuomo’s initial plan was criticized by local government officials in the north country who were afraid that their previous efforts would not be credited.

New York Association of Counties spokesman Mark A. Lavigne, a Massena native, said the amendment would allow for a “lookback” to efforts made in previous years to share services and bring costs down.

Many of the details of the new plan have yet to be sorted out. “This implementation is going to be interesting to watch,” Mr. LaVigne said.

The new plan was unveiled at the end of last week, according to Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa. “The provisions were tweaked and they were tweaked to make the proposal better,” Mrs. Russell said.

The original five-year plan required school districts and local governments to stay within the state’s 2 percent property tax cap and to develop plans in the second year to share or consolidate services so that homeowners in those areas could receive a rebate check that essentially would keep property taxes flat.

According to a preliminary understanding of the plan, proposals still would have to be submitted to the state Division of Budget, but districts and municipalities could be given credit for past efforts and consolidations that continue to save money.

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, also was supportive of the change to the governor’s initial proposal.

Mr. LaVigne, however, stressed that counties still face numerous costs imposed at the state level and raised questions about the efficacy of shared services and consolidation.

Despite unresolved questions about the property tax initiative, north country representatives also were reasonably pleased with funding for education and agricultural programs in the budget.

Sen. Ritchie said she was happy that her number-one priority, securing more money for local school districts, was met with $20 million in funding for schools in her district.

She added, however, that additional funds were needed for area schools and that she would continue to work to end the Gap-Elimination Adjustment Act, cuts to state aid to offset the state’s deficit.

Sen. Ritchie was not enthusiastic about a pilot program to test the idea of public campaign finance in the race for the state comptroller. “I don’t think we should be funding campaigns when we can’t fund school districts,” she said.

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