Participants in this weekâ€™s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll overwhelmingly oppose Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooksâ€™ â€œCommunity Solutionâ€ to the countyâ€™s long-term budget gap.
Eighty-one percent said it is not the best way to close the projected $100.1 million deficit for 2008-09, while 19 percent said it is the best remedy.
Brooksâ€™ proposed â€œCommunity Solutionâ€ would shift sales tax revenue from municipalities and schools to pay for Medicaid. The lost revenue for municipalities and schools would be made up by an increase in the sales tax to 8.75 cents from the current 8 cents on the dollar.
Survey participants who opposed Brooksâ€™ plan were asked to choose from among several alternative solutions. Those favoring each broke down as follows:
â€¢ 61% â€” Cut spending only
â€¢ 30% â€” Raise taxes and cut spending
â€¢ 4% â€” Raise the sales tax
â€¢ 4% â€” Raise the property tax
â€¢ 1% â€” Raise both sales and property taxes
Nearly 450 Daily Report readers took part in this weekâ€™s Snap Poll, conducted Monday.
More than 100 respondents also submitted thoughts and comments. Below are some of them. To take part in the next Snap Poll, sign up for the free Daily Report at http://www.rbjdaily.com/dailyform.htm.
Lobby to get more state aid.
â€”Victor Salerno, CEO, Oâ€™Connell Electric Co.
I suggest we consider withholding payments to Albany until they can demonstrate acceptable performance (assuming thereâ€™s an actual exchange of funds). The Fairport School District successfully executed this type of civil disobedience with the school budget vote.
Need to address state-mandated funding. State should pick up some or all of the Medicaid costs.
â€”Chuck Callahan, CFO Benefit Resource Inc.
No new water plant. The MCWA is an organization that needs government oversight and is used as a funding source for county Republicans as they give contracts to engineering groups who â€œkick backâ€ to their campaignsâ€”just like the MCC dorms. While not directly tied to the county budgetâ€”still part of the problem. Both city and county should agree to a third-party review of all duplicate services and agree to negotiate in good faith for services that can be merged and made more efficientâ€”start with water, economic development groups, other common functions. Look at stuff like â€œmedical self-insurance.â€ I know Excellus is a large employer, but paying 71 cents on a dollar is very inefficient. Look toward Syracuse as an exampleâ€”they use POMCO for self-insurance and POMCO pays over 90 cents on each dollar.
The county cannot tax or cut its way out of this deficit. It needs Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer to follow through on his campaign promises to cut the unfunded mandates on Medicaid and Medicare programs that New York State is currently forcing every county to pay for. After the cuts made at the state level, which should ease the cost of running county government considerably, a raise to the sales tax should be chosen as the most fair and balanced option. All the while, Ms. Brooks needs to remember that while her president holds that we need additional tax cuts, and to hold the current tax cuts at the federal level, forcing state and local governments to raise taxes to cover the losses, she, he, and the entire Republican party sound like a bunch of idiots.
We really need to trim back government. My business has felt the pinch, and I donâ€™t think government has had to do the belt tightening that the private sector has. We definitely do not need more taxes, either sales or property. We are in one of the highest-tax-burdened environments in the country and it canâ€™t keep going.
â€”Peter Wehner, PRW Associates Architects
We are continuing to lose people and businesses due to our high taxes. Raising taxes will only accelerate this. Unfortunately, cutting spending will most likely NOT close the budget gap for â€™08-â€™09. Medicaid is too big of a problem. Many municipalities outside of New York State are using strategic sourcing processes and e-sourcing technology to drive costs down. Unfortunately, the bidding laws in New York State are too antiquated to allow for electronic bidding.
Raising taxes will only hurt the local economy and drive more people out of the Rochester area. Instead, more state money should be invested in the automation and auditing of Medicaid. It was recently reported that over $3.6 million in Medicaid payments were paid out to deceased individuals. A New York Times report last year found that between 10 percent and 40 percent of Medicaid costs in New York was attributable to fraud and waste. Health care groups claim that there is no reliable way to update Medicaid data. This problem is much bigger than Monroe County and there no reason why we should raise local taxes to fix the NYS Health Departmentâ€™s problems.
One has to love our politicians here in New York State. We already live in the #1 tax state. A state that one could make a case for being a pseudo-socialist state given the level of people who work for public authorities either directly or via contract and the fact the state government is essentially directed by three people. Yet, once again we want to raise taxes, rather than be fiscally responsible.
â€”John Slocum, Concepts To Revenue
Brooks should initiate an immediate spending freeze and conduct an audit using an audit team of outside professionals to examine all aspects of county spending. She should request prioritized recommendations for spending reductions. She should request a report from the audit team, review its recommendations and implement those which are deemed feasible by both the team and those responsible for county administration.
The county executive should leverage this impending deficit to induce change in Albany. She could work with the new governor and all those re-elected legislatorsâ€”who must be doing a phenomenal jobâ€”to solve the underlying problem.
Best way to close the budget gap? Secede from new your state.
This robbing Peter to pay Paul idea just means that the town and school taxes will have to be raised. This is not a solution but a pass-the-buck scheme. We are already suffering from excessive taxation. As a real estate agent, I have had many out-of-town customers who have been offered jobs here. Upon realizing what the taxes are, many of them have opted not to take the job. Even with an increase of salary, moving here would have them taking home less because of the excessive taxes. The best way to shore up the economy would be to give the taxpayers some relief. Hard decisions are going to have to be made by the county. We can not offer every amenity. We unfortunately have many state and federal mandates that we must follow, but our local politicians should actively be trying to change those mandates. There has got to be some waste in the county system, so Maggie Brooks should be trying to root that out as well as making cuts that we can live with.
â€”Lauren Judson, Mitchell Pierson Jr. Inc.
The county has not benefited from increased property values, and therefore the property tax levyâ€”not the tax rateâ€”should be raised. Right now, if we raise the property tax rate, you just shift the burden. But to spread the burden, raise the levy, but not the rate. On spending, it would seem the county has done an excellent job cutting where they can. However, the majority of their burden is mandated costs which they have no control over. So, while Iâ€™d love to say, raise taxes and cut spending, Iâ€™m not sure how realistic that isâ€” without substantial changes at the state level. Perhaps the Spitzer administration will help with real reformâ€”not simply sending money to Monroe County to cover the gap.
â€”David Gottfried, the Javelin Group
Itâ€™s tragic for Monroe County to be still held in thrall by the anti-working family thinking of the Republican Party. Although raising the sales tax makes some sense, by trying to restrict all discussion to this source only, the county executive is hoping to shift a disproportionate share of the new taxes to those least able to afford it. Any attempt to redress this crisis must consist in action at the state level to reform a system that is fundamentally broken. The state must assume all responsibility for education and Medicare expenses and finance this through broad-based, progressive taxes. The local jurisdictions should tax themselves for local expenses (public safety, local infrastructure, libraries, etc.). But short term only, a shared tax structure will be perceived as fair. Raise the sales tax by 1/4 to 1/2 percent and increase the mortgage tax by 50 basis points. At least that way the burden would have some element of progressiveness, and have the possibility of finding acceptance.
â€”John Perry Smith, president, Total Information Inc.
I think Ms. Brooks should be reminded that when she first ran for office, her platform was to reduce county spending by updating the administrative techniques of the county. She was going to â€œstreamlineâ€ the offices with modern computer systems like she did the License Bureau. This was a â€œrealâ€ area to improve, and eliminate waste. Monroe County should submit to a bona-fide business audit and then implement the solutions suggested. The budget gap could be closed and tax rebates enjoyed by all if the county was run like a competitive business.
â€”Lou Romano, president, Romold Inc.
I believe the solution is unfortunately the only way to derive any immediate and sustainable revenue flows for the county. However, I would like to see a simultaneous marketing effort by county to push local retailers over big box retailers to maximize and recycle our communityâ€™s retail spending directly back into our community and not send to companies or corporations in other parts of the country and/or other countries. Especially for items like coffee, which is consumed daily by over 50% of our population. Keep the dollars here. Letâ€™s not send to Seattle, Canada and France as is the case of Starbucks, Tim Hortonâ€™s and Dunkin Donuts.
â€”Michael Blanchard, Law Practice Advisory Group LLC
Although raising taxes is onerous, new business will not be attracted to the Rochester area if we have little to offer in services. I would be more inclined to support a sales tax increase if there were steps taken to ensure the poor would have some relief from it (perhaps exemptions for clothing and other essentials costing under a certain dollar amount). Otherwise, the sales tax is a very unfair taxâ€”the poor, by necessity, spend a much higher percentage of their earnings than do those who make more.
â€”Patricia Deane, Ameriprise Financial
I have a problem when Ms. Brooks talks about not raising the $9.10 property tax rate in her term, as she promised. That is all well and good, but no one mentions how the assessments have gone up in the city (where I live). I can share with you that my county taxes have doubled since I bought my city property (Arnold Park) in April of 2002. Ms. Brooks can raise the sales tax in Monroe County. If this is her path, I will use EastView Mall and the other shopping in the Ontario county tax rate base as often as possible. I also am fortunate to have a second home in (Hilton Head), S.C., that offers many sales tax advantages above and beyond Ontario County.
Excessive taxes are the main impediment to attracting new businesses and talented people to our area. In no way should we be considering raising taxes or fees. If there is a shortfall in revenue, then the county should do an extensive review of its spending habits and make appropriate reductions. Perhaps a place to start would be with the excessive overtime pay and pensions that so many on the government payroll receive.
â€”Rick Corey, president, OpticsProfessionals LLC
This is a complex problem. The answer has to come from two directions: reducing expenses and increasing income. This problem is easier to solve the sooner it is addressed. The total community (both residents and employees) must understand we cannot exist in an ever-increasing deficit mode. The longer we wait, the more drastic the solution will be.
I assume Meggie Brooksâ€™ plan to raise the sales tax is targeted to create the public outcry she needs to address an issue to which the solution is for the most part not in the hands of Monroe County as it is dictated by the state. The long-term gap can only be solved at the state level. Monroe County is not alone as it faces the unfair distribution of payment obligations and shares in tax revenue. Only awareness and some fuss will move things. So: NO, hers is not the right way, but maybe the BEST.
â€”Hans von Gehlen, president, MindSetter LLC Business Coaching
If Rochester would get over its â€œwe expect everything on a silver platterâ€ attitude, and the feds and the state would stop the health care rackets, Maggie may actually stand a chance of keeping her pledge to not raise taxes. I wish her luck, but donâ€™t mess with the schoolsâ€”they already have major educational standards issues.
â€”Richard Stevenson, CEO, CobbleSoft International Ltd.
Maggieâ€™s solution is only the first step. Monroe County has one of the highest county tax rates in Western New York. As an example, Erie Countyâ€™s tax rate is approximately 45% lower. Since reportedly 79% of the county budget is mandated, a financial control board is the only option which will make a difference other than insolvency. The financial control board which was instituted in the city of Buffalo has been very successful. Erie County currently is under a separate financial control. Itâ€™s time to embrace a financial control board for a Monroe County.
â€”John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates Inc.
An increase of property and/or sales taxes should NOT be the first solution used to solve the countyâ€™s current budget gap. Instead, a thorough review of ALL current/proposed spending should first be conducted, with non-essential areas identified for significant spending reductions. An increase in taxes should be considered ONLY as a last resort, to close the remaining budget gap AFTER significant spending reductions have been made.
All of our taxes are going up. Until a change is made regarding entitlements in Albany, we have no choice but to go along. It would be good if county spending could be reduced, but simply refusing to raise property taxes is like hiding your head in the sand.
â€”Al Schnucker, Schnucker Packaging Inc.
At some point the county will hit a wall with its existing structure and will be forced to cut spending, although generating revenue is also required. As they say in business, â€œyou canâ€™t cut your way to profitability.â€ So we must cut spending AND raise revenue at the same time. The bigger question is, does Maggie Brooks have the fortitude to make the tough choices on cutting spending?
Get more state aid; I hear they have a surplus. Raising the sales tax will hurt the local economy and cause people to travel out of the county to shop.
â€”Tim Southern, R.L. Kistler
Consolidate police services in the county. Lease the fiber optic line to a cable company in order to raise revenue and cut cable costs 25-40%. Consolidate the city and county water authorities.
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