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November 4, 2012

State election hopefuls discuss taxing issues

Tonawanda News — Several times in recent years, Niagara County has held a dubious distinction.

An annual ranking presented by The Tax Foundation, a nonprofit group that has been monitoring fiscal policy at various levels of government since 1937, has pegged Niagara County at the top or near the top of its annual, national ranking of the communities paying the highest real estate taxes as a percentage of median home value. 

Locally, officials representing various elected offices have consistently dismissed the ranking — which the Tax Foundation bases on U.S. Census Bureau data — as being a less-than-accurate depiction of the true property tax burden in Niagara County.

Conversely, challengers seeking elected office have sought to push the ranking as an acknowledgement by an outside source of what the locals know already: Residents in this area are overtaxed. 

So when it comes to taxes is the problem any better, or getting worse? 

The answer depends on which candidate is being asked. 

Incumbent state Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane and his colleague, state Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, point to the 2-percent property tax cap pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and approved by state lawmakers last year as evidence that the tax matter is being taken seriously in Albany, and things are improving. 

"With Governor (Andrew) Cuomo's leadership, we have gotten (the tax cap) in," Maziarz said. "That's going to go a long way towards controlling property taxes." 

Ceretto agreed, calling the state's property tax cap, a "stepping stone" to a greater solution. He said it's only part of the equation and now it is incumbent upon state lawmakers to push for the next step — andate relief for local municipalities, including Niagara County.

"Part of the problem is the leadership in the Assembly, like (Assembly Speaker) Sheldon Silver," Ceretto said. "He doesn't want to pass my legislations. But, we have been able to work with the governor to help reduce some of the unfunded mandates, like with Medicaid, which are driving up taxes and we are phasing in a plan to assume any increased costs to the counties into the state."

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