Consolidation is the buzz word. The 2 percent tax cap is the hammer. And, according to assemblyman Kevin Cahill, that appears to be the state government’s idea of an answer to the question, how many governments do you need? That’s a question we’ve asked over and over again. If you define a government as an entity that can levy taxes on you, you’ve got the feds, the state, the county, your town, your village (if you live in New Paltz, Saugerties, Ellenville or Catskill). Then there’s your school district.
You can see it coming in a lot of ways. Saugerties was able to save money when the Village and the Town combined the police force. That’s like a tiny toe in the water. Catskill once, maybe 15 years ago, held an election to dissolve its Village and become part of the town. That failed then. New Paltz, town and village, are making another foray into the field, but the question of who will be in charge is eluding resolution and the vote keeps getting put off.
Onteora school district superintendent Phyllis Spiegel-McGill labeled the new teacher evaluation system the biggest unfunded mandate ever, or something to that effect, but the trend of more expenses, without the bucks to support them, that districts are required to implement continues. And if you look down the road, even a district like Onteora, which is in better financial shape than most because it did not have repay the back taxes on the Ashokan Reservoir, will face problems. But the trend toward more unfunded mandates will continue if the above theory is correct.
The first to topple may be the Marlboro school district, which overlaps Ulster and Orange counties. Marlboro used to depend on the Danskammer and Roseton coal-fired power plants for 60 percent of its tax base. It was sweet while it lasted. But a tax settlement a few years back reduced that number to 40 percent, while everyone else’s taxes went up to compensate, and now, one of the plants is shuttered and paying nothing, while the other is being sold, with a promise to pay the taxes. In such cases, when an entity fails to pay its taxes, the county is required to pay them and take up the task of collecting the funds themselves. But in this case the counties are punting because the likelihood of collecting is remote. A consolidation with other districts, such as Highland and New Paltz may be inevitable here.
As, someday down the road, may one be with Kingston, Onteora and Saugerties. Imagine if the amount the Ashokan Reservoir costs New York City in Onteora taxes were to diminish significantly.
If indeed the state’s goal is to consolidate, even a more flush economy might not derail this train.