While the flood relief package advanced through the Legislature last December provided real support for rebuilding our communities, one measure in the package is compounding the fragile and nearly desperate financial situation of already weakened schools and local governments across the state.
Among the benefits provided in the package, the Legislature and the Governor collectively approved a measure (the Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee Assessment Relief Act) which would authorize schools and local governments, at local option, to immediately reassess and provide direct rebates to property owners who experienced more than 50 percent damage to their homes. This would provide relief to homeowners who wound up paying taxes for their homes based on pre-flood property values.
While supporting the measure as part of the total package, Assemblyman Pete Lopez (R,C,I – Schoharie) has advanced a letter to the Governor expressing his concerns with the ability of these institutions to cope with the loss of revenue and continue to provide services, even as they offer much-needed relief to individual disaster victims.
“A number of representatives have called me personally to advise they are in an untenable position and may refrain from exercising this option,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “Local discussions along these lines already have heightened tensions between our schools, local governments and the very people they serve – pitting them against each other, I believe, unnecessarily.”
Assemblyman Lopez is drawing attention to the availability of some $20 million in state funds appropriated in the December 2011 relief package as a hedge against unmet local needs resulting from the damaging floods. In researching the bill language, he maintains these funds could be used to help reimburse those schools and local governments which opt into the rebate program. Additionally, the Assemblyman is preparing a bill as an amendment to the original flood relief package, for the Governor’s and Albany legislative leaders’ review, which would enable the state to supply more funds as needed.
In his letter to the Governor, Assemblyman Lopez noted that this issue is quickly coming to a head. Schools and local governments have been granted 45 days from the signing of the legislation (December 9, 2011), and must pass a resolution adopting the provisions of this Act on or before January 23, 2012.
“At a time where all of us in the impacted communities are at our lowest financial ebb, I respectfully submit that the state could help with this serious matter,” wrote the Assemblyman to Governor Cuomo. “Your help in working with our legislative leaders to signal the availability of state assistance is critically needed. Absent state support, the goal of providing financial relief to our flood-ravaged homeowners will not be realized.”
EDITORS’ NOTE: Click here for a copy of Assemblyman Lopez’s letter to Governor Cuomo.