Weekly Wire 10/22/15
Weekly Wire re-caps events, legislative action, advocacy efforts, and other news that impacts county government.
Counties Tally $882 million in Government Efficiency Plan Savings
Government Efficiency Plans (GEP) submitted by New York Counties and other local governments were approved last week by the State Division of Budget, paving the way for Property Tax Freeze Rebates to flow to homeowners across the state. Read the NYSAC report: County Government Efficiency Plans.
As a reminder, the Governor and Legislature enacted a temporary property tax freeze rebate program that spans three years (2014, 2015 and 2016). The program is in effect for two years for each type of municipal government, subject to meeting certain state determined criteria in order to make their homeowners eligible for tax rebates. In 2014 the tax freeze rebate program applied only to school districts, in 2015 all municipalities are subject to the tax freeze program, and in 2016 all municipalities except school districts are subject to the program.
For the first year each local government must comply with the state imposed property tax cap in order to make their homeowners eligible for a tax freeze rebate check (the program is not available to businesses that pay property taxes). In year two, these local governments must adhere to the property tax cap and also have an approved government efficiency plan in place in order to make their homeowners eligible for a second round of rebate checks. If a local government does not comply with the tax cap in the first year they can still qualify their residents for a rebate in year two if they meet the necessary conditions lined out above. The state is expected to begin mailing out property tax freeze rebate checks for the 2015 cycle this fall (for this year, 51 of 57 counties satisfied the state property tax cap).
The state's target was to save 1 percent off their 2014 property tax levy for three years. For the 48 counties included in NYSAC's data collection, that represents $46 million. In the end, these counties saved more than six times that target. They are saving local taxpayers more than $290 million per year for a three year total of nearly $875 million. County officials from all corners of the state submitted more than 1,300 different projects over the seven year period through an intergovernmental collaboration of 556 counties, towns, cities and villages.
Sales Tax Receipts Continue to Lag
County sales tax receipts in the third quarter of 2015 continue to lag compared to last year, with nearly 30 counties experiencing lower receipts this year. The third quarter trend is consistent with what counties experienced for the first nine months of the year. NYSAC believes the lower sales tax receipts are generally attributed to lower energy prices, along with weak economic activity in the first quarter nationwide and the strong dollar impact on certain industrial sectors and currency exchange rates. However, the impact of lower energy prices on sales tax receipts will not explain all differences and this will vary by county. We must also consider what impact (over the short- and long-term) that low wage growth, low general inflation, the lowest labor force attachment in 38 years, household debt reduction, household savings rates and increasing Internet purchasing activity as a share of total commerce is having on local sales tax receipts. The impact of these later items is difficult to measure and may not be known for some time.
In regards to motor fuels, for the first nine months of the year local sales tax collected from this source is nearly $160 million lower than last year and this is likely reflected in the average total sales tax receipts per county which are coming in at -.25 percent. Had gasoline prices remained flat year-over-year the average change per county in sales tax receipts could have been as high as 2.75 percent, all other things being equal (many economists believe that much of the savings from lower gasoline and energy prices is being spent on other taxable goods and services, but recent data is not clear as to how much, with estimates ranging from 25 percent to 80 percent). Regardless of the consumption substitution impacts, many oil market analysts and the U.S. Energy Information Administration expect energy prices, led by oil, to remain at (or near) current levels through the end of 2016 and possibly longer. In 55 counties, taxable sales generated by automobile dealers or gasoline stations are the number one source of local sales tax revenue.
End of 2015: State Legislative Action
During the 2015 legislative session, the Senate and Assembly collectively approved 718 bills. As of October 21st, 2015, 18 of those have been vetoed, 361 have been chaptered and 71 currently sit on the Governor's desk awaiting action. Most notably among those on Governor Cuomo's desk are:
In the remaining months of 2015, there are 268 outstanding pieces of legislation that will require action by the Governor before December 31st. Any bill not sent by the Senate and Assembly to the Governor before the end of the calendar year will automatically go to his desk. The Governor will then have 30 days to act (instead of the typical 10) and then any legislation not signed or vetoed will automatically be vetoed (known as a pocket veto).
NY Counties to Receive a Portion of a $550 Million Settlement Between New York State and Tobacco Companies
On October 20, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the State has agreed on a $550 Million settlement with tobacco companies. This settlement releases funds from the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement that were being held in escrow accounts for over a decade by tobacco companies. The Attorney General stated that approximately half of the $550 Million settlement will go to the State and the rest of funding will be split by New York City and the counties of New York.
The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was made in part to reduce the fiscal burden the state and local governments had to expend on healthcare for residents due to tobacco-related illnesses. The escrow in this matter was created in part under the agreement to ensure that New York State would diligently enforce tobacco-related state statutes that impact the entire tobacco industry. As part of the settlement New York has agreed to reduce all future tobacco company agreement annual payments based on the total “in-state sales volume of cigarettes that are manufactured on Native American reservations and sold untaxed from smoke shops on those reservations to New York consumers”.
The Women's Equality Agenda: Signed by the Governor
The Women's Equality Agenda was delivered to the Governor for his consideration on October 20, 2015. This was the first year that state lawmakers in both houses were able to jointly approve the package of eight bills, despite disagreement over a more controversial piece of the agenda that related to reproductive health. The eight bills approved by the Governor include:
S.1 (Savino) / A.6075 (Titus)
which prohibits differential pay because of sex, to replace the current "any other factor other than sex" exception with an exception that requires that the differential in rate of pay be based on a bona fide factor other than sex such as education, training or experience.
S.2 (Valesky) / A.5360 (Galef)
which amends the law to protect workers from sexual harassment regardless of the size of the workplace. Under the amended law, an employee of any business; large or small, may file a complaint for sexual harassment.
S.3 (Little) / A.5873 (Dinowitz)
which would allow for reasonable attorney's fees in employment and credit discrimination cases when sex is a basis of discrimination.
S.4 (Little) / A.7317 (Russell)
which prohibits employers from denying work or promotions to workers simply based on their familial status. Current law protects against familial status discrimination in housing, but not employment.
S.5 (Robach) / A.6354-B (Peoples-Stokes)
which would protect victims of domestic violence from discrimination when they attempt to rent or lease housing and provides victims of domestic violence a defense in eviction proceedings.
S.6 (Young) / A.6262 (Joyner)
which allows for the development and establishment of a pilot program in family courts for the remote petitioning and issuance by audio-visual means of temporary orders of protection. It also requires that the Chief Administrator of the Courts submit regular reports to the Governor and the Legislature on court practices, procedures and services with respect to the adequacy and appropriateness of its services for crime victims.
S.7 (Lanza) / A.506 (Paulin)
which enacts the trafficking victims protection and justice act. This bill improves the State's response to human trafficking by increasing the accountability of buyers and traffickers. The legislation also provides a civil remedy to victims to recover damages and reasonable attorney's fees from their perpetrators. Further, the bill provides for increasing awareness among law enforcement regarding identifying human trafficking, victims.
S.8 (Hannon) / A.4272 (Gunther)
which clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for employees with pregnancy-related conditions.
Raising the Minimum Wage for Fast Food Workers
On July 22 Governor Cuomo approved a resolution recommending a phased-in minimum wage increase to $15 for workers in the fast-food industry. The Fast Food Wage Board met to discuss what increase of the minimum wage should be granted for the yet-to-be-defined industry and approved the Governor's Resolution.
On September 10, the New York State Department of Labor Acting Commissioner Mario J. Musolino accepted the Fast Food Wage Boards recommendation and report. In accordance with the law, on October 21 the Department of Labor has issued proposed regulations that include:
The basic minimum hourly rate , except for fast food employees, shall be:
· $ 9.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2015
The basic minimum hourly rate for fast food employees employed in the City of New York shall be:
· $10.50 per hour on and after December 31, 2015;
· (2) $12.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2016;
· (3) $13.50 per hour on and after December 31, 2017;
· (4) $15.00 per hour on and after December 31, 2018
The basic minimum hourly rate for fast food employees employed outside of the City of New York shall be:
· $9.75 per hour on and after December 31, 2015;
· $10.75 per hour on and after December 31, 2016;
· $11.75 per hour on and after December 31, 2017;
· $12.75 per hour on and after December 31, 2018;
· $13.75 per hour on and after December 31, 2019;
· $14.50 per hour on and after December 31, 2020;
· $15.00 per hour on and after July 1, 2021.
The proposed regulations have a 45 day comment and analysis period.
NYS Seeks Input to Inform New NY Broadband Program
The NYS Broadband Program Office (BPO) released a Request for Information ("RFI") on September 24th, seeking input from qualified parties to inform the preparation of guidelines for and structure of the New NY Broadband Program.
Information will be considered in the formulation of the New NY Broadband Program, including strategies for how to structure and implement the program. Counties will be important partners locally and regionally to ensure the success of statewide broadband deployment. NYSAC encourages all counties to communicate with the BPO and share information regarding your local efforts to coordinate and expand broadband in your communities.
Angela Liotta, Deputy Director
NYS Broadband Program Office
625 Broadway, 8th Floor
Albany, NY 12245
(For more information on broadband and how universal broadband in New York can benefit local governments and communities, read NYSAC's updated white paper on Broadband expansion.)
Medical Marijuana Practitioner Education Course
The New York State Medical Marijuana program that is set to be up and running in January of 2016 requires physicians to complete a four-hour course prior to prescribing marijuana as a form of medication. The Department of Health announced on Tuesday, October 20 that the online course is now available online for physicians who would will be prescribe medical marijuana in New York State.
The four-hour, DOH-approved course includes information about the pharmacology of marijuana, contraindications, adverse reactions, drug interactions, dosing, routes of administration, risks and benefits, and abuse and dependence. The fee for the course is $249, and practitioners successfully completing the course will earn 4.5 hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credit.
Following successful completion of the course, practitioners who wish to certify qualified patients must register online with the DOH Medical Marijuana Program. Practitioners will be required to send a copy of their course completion certificate along with other required information to DOH for validation. Upon validation of the information provided, DOH will authorize the practitioner to register and begin issuing certifications to qualified patients.
New York Department of State Creates Online Searchable Local Law Database
New York law requires all county and municipal local laws to be filed with the New York Department of State. Recently, the Department of State introduced a user-friendly online database where one can search for copies of local laws. The database contains local laws submitted to the Department of State on or after January 1, 1998 by counties, cities, towns and villages.
County officials seeking ideas on new local laws to introduce and/or seeking language when drafting a specific local law could benefit from utilizing this database tool. The database can be found at: http://www.dos.ny.gov/corps/locallaws.html
Here Comes the Sun: New York's Solar Goal is an Opportunity Localities
Across the country, the popularity of residential solar power systems continues to grow as people looking to take control of their electricity costs turn to renewable energy. However, for municipalities, the volume of installations can pose problems at building department permitting offices. It's tough to keep up with the volume with no increases in budget or resources.
In light of Governor Andrew Cuomo's recently announced goal of solar projects on 150,000 homes and businesses by 2020, there is an opportunity to streamline small business and residential rooftop solar permitting, and help local governments expedite more installations.
Every jurisdiction is unique and knows how best to run their building department. As more aggressive goals are adopted for solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, there is a framework that could be adopted in New York to help achieve those goals while making the jobs of building department staff easier.
Even though there are thousands of companies around the country installing rooftop solar, they are all starting to use similar products and methods for building their jobs. These standardized methods are easy to expedite because in most cases they don't require any additional structural or electrical upgrades. In addition, most all contractors now conform to product safety standard UL 2703 for racking, clamping and grounding devices that significantly increases the reliability of attachments and flashing methods and virtually alleviates the concern for any pre-inspection.
Ultimately, the development of industrywide safety standards and better mounting products makes simplified inspection a no-brainer for jurisdictions. Contractors and consumers both benefit with a single final inspection conducted after the job and shorter installation times resulting in reduced project costs.
New York State County Clerk Association Holds 2015 Fall Conference in Ontario County
On October 19th through the 21st The New York State County Clerks Association held their 2015 Fall conference in Ontario County. County Clerks from over 50 counties met to train and share ideas. Workshops included a session regarding land/title filings as well as a presentation by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, who spoke on behalf of the NYS Office of Court Administration.
Wayne County Clerk Mike Jankowski proudly serves as County Clerk Association's President and organized this successful event. The next County Clerk Association Conference will take place in January 2016 in Albany.
NYS Association of County Directors of Real Property Tax Services Hold Successful Conference in Oneida County
Earlier this week, the New York State Association of County Directors of Real Property Tax Services held their 2015 Fall conference in Oneida County. This innovative and educational conference provided workshops that included a session on alternative forms of energy valuations as well as training on tax mapping.
This conference was highlighted by the swearing-in of new the new association president, Columbia County Real Property Tax Director Suzette Booy, who will lead the association forward with it's recent momentum of improved training and a more cohesive voice for the association.
AWARDS & TRAINING
October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month
The critical services that government provides, including financial services, healthcare, and emergency response, are increasingly relying on technology and the Internet to function. This interconnectivity enables many efficiencies, but also introduces risk. Counties need to be aware of these risks, understand the vulnerabilities, and take appropriate steps to protect the information entrusted to their care.
National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), celebrated every October, was created as a collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure government, private industry, educators, law enforcement, and especially members of the public have the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online.
In celebration of NCSAM, the NYS Office of Information Technology Services Enterprise Information Security Office (NYS ITS EISO) is joining with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its partners across the country to share tips on how we can protect our information at work, at home, and on the go. Help keep your identity, and your information more secure by following the cyber security dos and don'ts found on the following sites:
NYMIR Risk Management Training
On Wednesday, November 4 -1:00-4:30 at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Training Facility in Saratoga (50 W. High Street, Ballston Spa, NY) trainers from the New York Municipal Insurance Reciprocal will provide critical risk management trainining on crime and fidelity, social media and cybersecurity. Call Erin Barilla today at 518-437-1171 X318 to reserve your spot.