By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO New York State is about to be put on notice.
“Times are tough. Taxes are out of control. The economy is not getting any better,” says John LiGreci, Town of Lumberland supervisor, chair of the local Association of Supervisors and also the Sullivan County Republican Party.
Yet, LiGreci charges, New York’s leaders have failed to come up with meaningful tax reforms and relief.
“So we need to take a drastic step,” he explains. “We want to sue the state for taxation without representation.”
Actually, that’s one of two ideas LiGreci, the Association of Supervisors and County Treasurer Ira Cohen have discussed.
Option B, says Cohen, would initiate legislation specific to Sullivan County that would provide local tax relief. He’s met with three attorneys to begin researching free of charge legal avenues and create potential local laws.
“Which we recognize in advance may not be enforceable,” Cohen acknowledges, “… but it would be to make a point.”
That point being: “Somewhere along the line we need relief,” says LiGreci.
LiGreci and Cohen’s frustrations emanate from a decade’s worth of failed efforts to lower taxes, to rein in tax-exempts’ abuse of the system, to put a halt to unfunded mandates.
“We seem to be hitting a brick wall at the state level,” LiGreci explains.
When the Assembly would approve a tax relief measure, says LiGreci, the Senate wouldn’t, and vice versa. Past governors including Republican George Pataki and Democrat Eliot Spitzer haven’t succeeded either, says LiGreci.
And Governor David Paterson’s recently proposed cap on school taxes wouldn’t work in the long term, he says, due to increasing costs of living and the distinct possibility it could be overridden at any time by the Legislature.
Plus, he and Cohen feel such a plan would hurt more than help citizens and school districts. They’re more interested in having income tax support the public school system, though whether that idea will be incorporated into this latest effort remains to be seen.
While LiGreci’s a bit more critical of Paterson than Cohen is, they agree that he could turn out to be a friend rather than a foe.
Both men praised NYS Senator John Bonacic and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther’s efforts to crack down on tax-exempts and fight for local taxpayers, but they’re of the mind that Bonacic and Gunther’s counterparts in the state have to be firmly encouraged if not forced to fix their unaffordable ways.
“Unfortunately, they have been reluctant to change the Real Property Tax Law,” explains Cohen, “… because the religious lobby group is so strong.”
So they’re going local. LiGreci and Cohen already have the explicit support of 14 of the county’s 15 town supervisors and plan to seek not only public approval but input as well.
“It affects everyone,” says LiGreci. “We have an obligation to the people in the county to try to take a brave step forward.”
To that end, the duo welcome calls at 856-4777, ext. 5 (for LiGreci) or 794-3000, ext. 5016 (for Cohen).
But they’re not simply waiting by the phone. A public meeting is being set up for the fall, and LiGreci is coordinating with each township to create a petition to be sent to Albany the aim being to get 40,000 signatures countywide.
They may also gather the supervisors together for a public meeting “to show the people that public officials in Sullivan County care and are trying to do something,” LiGreci relates.
What option will ultimately be picked is as yet unknown, but doing nothing will not be one of them.
“As the state falls further into debt,” remarks Cohen, “we can be assured on the local level that a lot of that debt will be passed down to us.”