Poughkeepsie… As local municipalities have begun distributing tax bills countywide Dutchess County Executive William R. Steinhaus and Chairman of the Legislature Bradford Kendall got together Tuesday after the Governor unveiled his 2004-05 budget to explain the new line added this year to Dutchess County property tax bills. Localities will be mailing approximately 90,000 property owners tax bills by February 1st.
“I believe the taxpayers of Dutchess County should be aware of how much money they are paying toward the New York State mandated Medicaid program,” stated Steinhaus. “To put it in perspective, if the local Medicaid burden remains the same, the State will charge Dutchess County government $132,000 every day this year for this one state-mandated health program. Taking this step, to provide Medicaid cost information on county property tax bills, may enable us to achieve the reform from Albany we desperately need.” he said.
In October 2003, the Dutchess County Legislature passed a Local Law, proposed by County Executive Steinhaus, authorizing a separate listing on local property tax bills to reflect the impact of the Albany-imposed Medicaid mandates on property taxes for Dutchess County residents. The current bills illustrate that 81 cents of every $1 dollar of property taxes levied on the backs of local homeowners and business property owners is paid to cover the local county share of the 2004 state mandated Medicaid cost, or $48 million dollars. Dutchess County has had to find funds to cover double digit increases over the past two budget cycles and has seen a startling 68% growth to the county’s share for Medicaid costs since 1998.
Bradford Kendall, Chairman of the Dutchess County Legislature said, “The County simply cannot continue to pay double digit growth increases for state mandated programs and maintain the services we are also responsible for such as public safety and public health and our efforts with Lyme Disease prevention. Imprinting the local cost of Medicaid on our property tax bills, 81 cents of every dollar paid by Dutchess County residents, is one way to bring this issue front and center,” added Kendall.
The Dutchess County Property Tax collected for 2004 hovers near 13% of all local property taxes collected (county, school, town, fire). On average, only 2.4% of the total goes toward county services, the remaining 10.4% in taxes is charged to residents to cover Dutchess’s share of state mandated Medicaid costs although that number can vary by municipality. According to the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), which represents all 62 counties in New York State, about 60 percent of county property taxes collected outside of the five boroughs of New York City will be spent on Medicaid this year. In 1989, it was only 24 percent. It is also estimated that in New York, total Medicaid costs are more than that of California and Texas combined, while those two states are home to three times the population of New York.
“As former President of NYSAC, we started the ‘CAP MEDICAID NOW’ campaign two years ago with the idea that state officials have been hedging the state’s responsibility by broadening Medicaid health services but shifting the costs to lower levels of government. We are hoping the enormity of these numbers in counties across New York State is finally making an impact on State Legislators in Albany to acknowledge the buck stops with them,” said Dutchess County Executive Steinhaus. “If this continues, the disturbing fact for all of us is that local county priorities cannot be funded at the level we may wish because there is not enough money left after paying for state imposed programs authored in Albany,” he added.
According to the New York Public Policy Institute, nationwide the average per-capita cost of Medicaid is about $600 annually. In New York that average cost to residents in New York State is $1,350 per year. The Institute has said that the state could purchase commercial health insurance for every man, woman and child living in New York at those prices.
“With the amount of information that has been learned revolving around the Medicaid issue in New York, the comparisons have become staggering,” said Chairman Kendall. “It is no surprise that my colleagues in other counties have seen double-digit growth in this area and that counties have started taking measures such as ours, displaying the cost of Medicaid on our property tax bills. The County Legislature’s overwhelming bi-partisan support in adopting this measure demonstrates that together county government is committed to pursuing the state and federal government for a fundamental restructuring of the Medicaid financing relationship,” added Kendall.
“Dutchess County property taxes have been cut 7 times since I took office,” noted Steinhaus. “We run a lean government with fewer county employees than a decade ago. The County share of property taxes, which makes up approximately 13% of the property taxes paid by homeowners and businesses, is lower today than in 1989 because of strong management in the daily operation of county government and a concentrated effort over the past 12 years to work smarter and create innovative cost effective solutions. However, with a tax increase necessary this year and the fiscal constraints programs like Medicaid impose upon counties unfortunately good fiscal stewardship of the past will become just that, history,” he said.
Steinhaus concluded, “I would like to add that I was pleased to hear in the Governor’s budget proposal, some beginning steps toward lifting this great financial burden from the local level back to the state, where it belongs. We just need reports, recommendations and proposals to turn into action and real legislation for the sake of all New York residents.”