Only 5.69% of the towns in New York State exceeded the property tax cap, but unfortunately Sweden was one of those towns.
According to the 2010 United States population census there are 932 towns in New York State.
National Public Radio reports that New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said that 53 of those towns (5.69%) “inappropriately exceeded” New York State’s property tax cap. The other 879 towns (94.31%) stayed within the property tax cap.
Sweden was one of the 53 towns (5.69%) that exceeded the state’s property tax cap. The tax cap was 1.56% but the Sweden Town Council passed a 2015 budget that raised the tax levy 5.09%.
Many people thought the Tax Cap as a 2% limit on taxes. But that is only partially true. Ne York’s State’s Property Tax Cap Guidelines for Implementation define the tax cap this way, “The growth in annual levy is limited to the lesser of 2 percent or the Consumer Price Index.”
“In an age of instant communication, some news still seems to travel by ox cart”
I.F. Stone, 1971
Last year, inflation was low, and therefore the Consumer Price Index was low, so the actual tax cap limit was less than two percent. The National Association of School Board Officials reports that the Consumer Price Index for 2014 was 1.46%. Other sources, including the Suburban News, put the 2014 Consumer Price Index at 1.56%.
Either way, the Consumer Price Index for 2014 was less than the 2% figure set down in the law. So to comply with the tax cap law, municipalities and school boards had to keep their tax increases below the actual Consumer Price Index.
Sweden not only failed to do that, Sweden failed to stay within the higher 2% limit. According to a Budget Summary provided by the town to the Suburban News, Sweden raised its taxes 5.09%, which is more than triple the tax cap.
That disgraceful performance by the members of the Sweden Town Council raises these questions.
- Why didn’t the Sweden Town Council stay within the state’s property tax cap?
- What could the Sweden Town Council have done to stay within the tax cap?
Why didn’t the Sweden Town Council stay within the state’s property tax cap?
There are two main reasons why the Sweden Town Council failed to stay within the tax cap: gross mismanagement of the town court and failure to control expenditures.
GROSS MISMANAGEMENT OF THE TOWN COURT
Because the Sweden Town Court was so badly managed by the town, the Village of Brockport created a Village Court in order to improve the quality of justice in the village.
The main reason for Brockport forming a Village Court was the ample evidence to support the contention that the Sweden Town Court seemed to be corrupt.
In an unbelievable display of government incompetence, in 2012 the Town of Sweden lost a cardboard box full of confidential information – almost 200 parking tickets issued by the Brockport Police Department.
The town court hadn’t even bothered to process the parking tickets because all the revenue from the parking tickets goes to the Village of Brockport.
But the town did process all the traffic tickets written by the Brockport Police Department because the Town of Sweden got to keep 40% of the revenue from the traffic tickets, while the Village got nothing.
In 2009 for example, the Town of Sweden kept $174,751 from traffic tickets written by the Brockport Police Department.
Total Fines Collected in 2009…………….$442,330 (100.00%)
Remitted to New York State……………….$248,779 (56.24%)
Retained by the Town of Sweden……….$174,751 (39.51%)
Remitted to the Village of Brockport….$18,800 (4.25%)
Then on January 29, 2013 Sweden Town Judge Carl Coapman had to resign after evidence surfaced that Coapman had been intoxicated while presiding over a court hearing in May 2012.
Because the town mismanaged the town court so badly, the village created its own court and the town lost all the revenue that it had received from the traffic tickets written by the Brockport Police Department.
So the Town Council had two choices: find another source of revenue or reduce expenditures. The Town Council chose to raise taxes beyond the tax cap.
FAILURE TO CONTROL EXPENDITURES
The Town of Sweden has failed to control expenditures, even after losing the revenue from the traffic tickets.
For example, the salaries of the Town Supervisor and the members of the Town Council are quite high, some would say extravagant.
Sweden Town Council….Salary
The Town of Sweden pays the members of the Town Council a total of $57,963.62 a year. That’s a lot of money. By contrast, the Village of Brockport pays the members of the Village Board a total of $21,672.75.
In all truthfulness, can anyone say that the jobs of the Sweden Town Council demand that much more pay then the jobs of the Brockport Village Board?
What could the Sweden Town Council have done to stay within the tax cap?
To meet the tax cap, all the Sweden Town Council had to do was reduce expenditures by $78,000. Instead of being fiscally responsible and cutting expenditures, they chose to raise town taxes 5.09%, which is more than triple the tax cap.
To stay within the tax cap, the Sweden Town Council could have reduced the extravagant salaries of members the Town Council.
Councilperson Robert Muesebeck told the Suburban News that, “We have looked at everything.” But it is quite evident that they didn’t do that.
By reducing the salaries of the Town Council to the same salary that the members of the Village Board receive, Sweden would have saved $36,290.87. That is 46.53% of the $78,000 they needed to come up with to stay within the tax cap. It would also have reduced the amount they still had to come up with to $41,709.13.
The Town Council also could have reduced the amount of money they had to come up with to meet the tax by an additional 13.43% simply by eliminating the retirement benefits for the members of the Town Council.
Sweden Town Council…..Retirement
The members of the Brockport Village Board do not receive any retirement benefits from the village because being a member of the Village Board is a public service (and a part time job). So is being a member of the Town Council.
How many people do you know who get retirement benefits from a part time job?
If Bob Muesebeck and the other members of the Sweden Town Council had really looked at everything they would have eliminated this fat cat perk. That would have saved another $10,479.24.
Eliminating the retirement benefit for the Town Council would have reduced the amount of money they had to come up with to meet the tax cap to $31,229.89. That’s 40.04% of the original of the $78,000 they needed to find.
But the most obvious place to reduce the gap between revenues and expenditures is the unnecessary third town judge. By law, the town is only required to have two judges. Why does it still have three judges?
Robert P. Connors draws an annual salary of $19,211 as a Town Justice. Eliminating that superfluous position would require a ratification vote by the citizens of the town, but there is more than one way to skin a cat.
The Town Council could have quietly and politely asked Connors to resign. Bobby Connors seems to be a nice guy, so he almost certainly would have done so. Everyone in town knows that his job was created as a patronage position, and that the third judge is totally unnecessary, especially since the town court lost all the cases generated by the Brockport Police Department.
Eliminating the unnecessary third town judge would have reduced the amount of money the Town Council had to come up with to meet the tax cap to $12,018.89. That’s 15.41% of the original $78,000 they needed to find to stay within the tax cap.
Finding a way to reduce the town budget by $12,018.89 is not an insurmountable task, especially since The Brockporter reported today that “Town of Sweden has the highest costing real estate tax assessment department of any of the 19 towns of Monroe County.”
There are many ways that the members of the Sweden Town Council could have reduced the budget instead of raising taxes again. So maybe it’s time to ask the $78,000 question. Why do the people of Sweden keep voting for these bozos?