Legislators failed to provide ‘Truth in Taxation’

Posted 3 September 2014 at 12:00 am


Just a few years ago, the Orleans County Legislature added “Truth in Taxation” to our January tax bills. It was supposed to help convince us to sell our County Nursing Home, and it may have helped (though, without the political cover incumbent legislators received by hiding behind their support of S.A.F.E. Act repeal, the voters likely would have voted out a majority of them.) Now that our legislators have gotten their way, they are dropping “Truth in Taxation.”

That does not mean our Legislators are no longer interested in being truthful. The truth is that it is difficult, putting it mildly, to eliminate something (“Truth in Taxation”) that never existed. . . the “Truth” that is. Those who have been paying attention for the past three years likely know what I am referring to.

Based on recent at-large election results, a majority of Orleans voters does not appear to recognize the truth when they see it. When the “canary” keels over, the truth is there is a pretty fair chance that not all is right in the “coal mine.”

For the minority who do pay attention, what follows might be considered actual taxation truth.

In 2004, the County Legislature fought to prevent sliding scale senior property tax relief from coming to a vote (It eventually passed unanimously). While trying to discourage me from pursuing the matter, the current Chairman told me that providing low-income seniors with modest tax breaks would “increase the taxes on the rest of us.” I do not take quotation marks lightly. The truth was that, once the right thing was done in the case of senior tax relief, taxes on the rest of us did increase by $.60 (sixty cents) per $100,000 of assessed valuation!

The truth is that greater tax fairness for most people in Orleans County would cost those who are better off a bit more.

In 2008, Gene Outterson conducted a one-man crusade to reduce/eliminate the sales tax on home heating fuel. That July, fuel oil was $4.89 a gallon and a fill up could easily add $40 dollars to a fuel bill.

The County Legislature even stonewalled the Clarendon Town Board when it sent us a letter asking that the home heating fuel sales tax be reduced. At least two legislators expressed amusement over the Town Board’s appeal. Later, the Conservative Party of Orleans was similarly rebuffed.

The truth is it could be done responsibly by a Legislature that saw a public interest in doing it.

If I recall correctly, the truth is that not all counties have a sales tax on home heating fuel.

Then there is the “Vehicle Use” tax. The truth is that an unemployed County resident driving a ’93 Ford Escort to find a job pays the same “Vehicle Use” tax as a millionaire driving a small BMW or a Mini Cooper. Is the “Vehicle Use” tax a “State mandate?”

None of this matters, of course, because your legislators have concluded they are “untouchable.” Besides, a majority of Orleans voters cannot handle the truth. Until the majority grows weary of being “played,” our Legislators will continue to do what they do.

Sincerely yours,

Gary F. Kent

Mr. Kent is a former Orleans County legislator