Legislators Unite With Local Officials, Schools, Businesses, Farms & Families To Call For Action On New Bill To Provide Tax Relief For Flood Victims

March 1, 2012
Assembly members Donna Lupardo (D-Endwell) and Pete Lopez (R,C,I-Schoharie) today were joined by local officials, schools, businesses, farms and families impacted by the devastating floods, which resulted from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, at a press conference in Albany calling for enactment of new legislation. The bill will provide flood-impacted communities, employers and residents with immediate tax relief.

“We need to keep the pressure on for additional flood relief; local governments need more time and additional financial assistance from the state,” said Assemblywoman Lupardo, sponsor of the legislation, who also authored similar legislation after the flooding in 2006. “Allowing more time to take advantage of the Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee Assessment Relief Act will help provide valuable property tax relief to homeowners affected by the flooding. Because most local governments can't afford to help homeowners take advantage of this, it’s important that the state help local governments pay for the costs.”

“Those communities that are suffering the most could not afford to offer the rebate. Everyone is struggling: homeowners, farms and businesses are desperately looking to rebuild; and schools and governments are trying to maintain critical services,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “While the intent of the original rebate proposal was good, they need the state’s financial backing if we're to get this money in the hands of our families and homeowners to help them rebuild their lives and make our communities whole."

The legislation, Assembly Bill 9191/Senate Bill 6311, will establish the Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee Assessment Relief Act. This act will allow property owners who sustained substantial damage from either storm, or resulting floods, to receive a refund for their 2011 property taxes paid by extending their opportunity to have the property reassessed at a post-damage level. Additionally, the act would give communities more time to opt into the program and provide state aid to localities that lost $10,000 or more in tax revenue as a result of flood-damaged properties (or two percent of the overall tax base, whichever is greater).

While this initiative was briefly offered, at local taxing entity option, following the State Legislature’s extraordinary session held in December 2011, no funding was provided to help local governments and school districts offset the cost of providing a rebate to property owners. With excessively high flood-recovery costs, and the two percent property tax cap, it was unrealistic for many communities to opt into the program without state aid. Further complicating matters was the 45-day window for local taxing entities to decide to opt into the program (between December 9, 2011 and January 23, 2012).

State Senator John Bonacic, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said, “Communities hit the hardest by last year’s storms were unable to take advantage of the assessment relief law because it would simply cost them too much in revenue they already were anticipating. Towns adopted their budgets in November, but the new law was not enacted until December. The legislation we are advocating for will ensure that hard-hit communities can opt in, and give them more time to make the decision.”

“This legislation is vital to our municipalities and our school districts,” said Senator Bill Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson), who is a co-sponsor of the senate bill. “It provides the necessary tools for them to continue the long process of rebuilding from these devastating storms and bringing their communities back to a state of normalcy.”

“The families and communities still rebuilding their lives after the devastating floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have faced enough roadblocks,” said Senator Tom Libous, who is another co-sponsor of the senate bill. “The Assessment Relief Act will help ease one of the many burdens they've endured as they continue getting back to normalcy.”

State Senator James L. Seward (R/C/I-Oneonta), who also co-sponsors the senate bill, said, “Imagine you have lost your home and everything you own and, to compound matters, you receive a property tax bill for that destroyed property. Families don’t know where to turn next, and steps need to be taken immediately to assist them so they can afford to rebuild their homes and their lives.”

Local officials from throughout the flood-ravaged counties attended the press conference to show their support for the legislation, and the dire need for flood relief. Delaware County Board of Supervisors Chairman, James E. Eisel, said, “Delaware County supports S.6311/A.9191 to encourage schools and local governments to participate in the Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee Assessment Relief Act, which would provide state financial support and extend time lines to participate. We all pay income and sales tax; these are trying economic times, and we need financial assistance from the state.”

Earl VanWormer, Esperance Town Supervisor, said, “The Town of Esperance would be very appreciative of any help that the Governor and the Legislature would bring to us, particularly since we have received no assistance from any agency to this point.”

Harold Vroman, Chair of Schoharie Board of Supervisors, asked that Governor Cuomo please consider helping move this legislation in order to “give some assistance to the schools, towns, and counties to cover the cost of the tax relief to the residents that lost their homes from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. These municipalities cannot afford to fund this without help from the State.”

Wayne Speenburgh, Chair of Greene County Legislature, also expressed his support of the legislation, applauded the bipartisan state legislators’ efforts, and highlighted the need to continue all efforts to provide flood relief. He said, “Our communities are still suffering. Anything the state can do to help is greatly needed and appreciated.”

Representatives from schools also were on hand to discuss the impacts of the floods on school district budgets. “Our residents devastated by the floods deserve assistance and relief from their tax burden as they rebuild their homes and lives, but the homeowners and businesses not directly impacted by damage don't have the fiscal capacity to absorb the shift in the tax burden without assistance from the state. And this shift won't go away in six months or a year. It will take several years to recover,” said Brian D. Sherman, Superintendent of Schoharie Central School District. “The Schoharie Central School District wants to do everything it possibly can to help mitigate the tax burden on its community, but, with an estimated loss of between $540,000 and $800,000 from its current budget, it wasn’t able do that without severely impacting the quality of its CORE academic programs for our students.”

“The Council of School Superintendents commends Assembly members Lopez and Lupardo and Senators Bonacic and Seward for their leadership in responding to the tragedies caused by the late summer floods in the Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and elsewhere,” said Dr. Robert Reidy, Executive Director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “The property damage caused by the floods created trauma for families and business owners, and financial challenges for schools and local governments. Superintendents shared with us heartbreaking stories of encounters with residents who received school tax bills for homes they lost that same week. The legislators’ proposals would provide both relief for taxpayers and help to preserve the public services their families depend on. We are grateful for their resourceful leadership.”

Martin Reid, Deputy Director of Governmental Relations, NYS School Board Association, said, “We are very pleased that Assembly members Lupardo and Lopez and the Senators have highlighted the need to extend the previous deadline and allow schools that so choose to make use of this relief effort. We also are pleased that taxpayers and the schools would be held harmless by the reduction in property values, and are further encouraged that the state would come through with this necessary funding to help communities devastated by the two tropical storms.”

Homeowners from flood-ravaged communities also attended the press conference to show their support for the legislation. Homeowners included Ralph and Liz Arrandale, Stanley and Marlene Towne, and Howard and Sherrie Bartholomew. The Bartholomews also were in attendance to represent the not-for-profit Gilboa Dam and Schoharie Reservoir citizens’ action group, Dam Concerned Citizens, Inc. (DCC). They stated, “DCC supports the call for action on new legislation that will provide immediate tax relief to flood-impacted residents, employers and communities.”

A variety of statewide organizations attended the press conference to express their support for the initiative, including the Association of Towns of the State of New York.

“By extending the deadline for participation in the assessment relief act, as well as ensuring state funding to hold harmless these flood-ravaged communities, the state would be making a small but profound investment in the revitalization of families and communities throughout our state,” stated Peter A. Baynes, Executive Director of the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYCOM). “NYCOM commends the bill sponsors for advancing this important legislation and urges swift passage by the Senate and Assembly.”

The legislation also is supported by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). “It is undeniable that Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee created enormous devastation to communities across New York. It is imperative that we provide both business and homeowners every opportunity to rebuild,” said Mike Durant, New York State Director for NFIB. “This legislation will help those that are struggling every day to rebuild their lives while also protecting communities and businesses.”

“Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee had a devastating impact on our farms and rural communities,” said Julie Suarez, Director of Public Policy for New York Farm Bureau. “We welcome this effort to extend more opportunities for tax relief to upstate communities that are still reeling from the effects of these destructive storms. This bill is a common sense solution that would make a real difference for farm families. Our members support the goals of this legislation, and we commend Assembly members Lupardo and Lopez as well as Senators Bonacic and Seward for introducing it.”

The legislation is currently under review in the Assembly Real Property Taxation Committee. In the Senate, the bill is before the Senate Local Governments Committee. The legislators encourage residents, employers, and organizations that are in support of the bill to contact their state representative and ask that they become a sponsor of the legislation and/or support its immediate enactment.

Following Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, more than three dozen counties across the state were declared disaster zones. The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated the damages, excluding private property, in New York State alone would cost more than $1 billion to repair or rebuild. If enacted, this legislation would help funnel dollars to where they are needed most – into the hands of homeowners who are desperately working to recover from the floods.

EDITORS’ NOTE: Click here for a copy of the Sponsor’s Memo for A.9191/S.6311.