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Town of Cairo's giant tax error continues to reverberate

Jan 06, 2023 1:03 pm

Andrea Macko at Porcupine Soup follows up on the shocking story of the Town of Cairo's tax error. On November 7, Cairo Town Supervisor Jason Watts said taxes were only increasing by 0.51 percent as the final 2023 budget was adopted. But then on December 28, town officials say an error was discovered and actually the town tax levy was growing by 7.5 percent and the tax rate was increasing by 5.11 percent. On December 29 the town board held an emergency meeting to pass a local law authorizing an override of the state’s tax cap. Porcupine Soup has repeatedly asked the New York State Comptroller’s Office for comment without a response. Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea did not provide any clarity on the error, saying, “The only thing we can think of is there was some type of typographical or accounting error in the document that the town presented on the night of the public hearing.” The town clearly broke state rules that clearly state the an overide of the. state's tax cap must be passed by a town before they vote on a budget that overides the tax cap. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance and the New York State Department of State, local governments says towns, “may override the tax levy limit only by first passing a local law” that allows for the tax levy limit to be exceeded. Further stated, “A budget officer, or chief executive, may prepare a tentative budget that requires a tax levy in excess of the levy limit. However, the governing body cannot, without first complying with override requirements, (i) adopt a budget that requires a levy in excess of the tax levy limit, or (ii) impose or cause the imposition of a tax levy to the extent that a budget requires a levy in excess of the levy limit.” Cairo's lawyer seemed to admit that he oversaw the town break the rules. Rappleyea said, “If it turns out that the tax override law is no good, then we have to do what we have to do with the Comptroller’s Office.” The Town of Cairo also seems to be ignoring the rules written specifically for a situation of this sort. The New York State Comptroller’s Office website says, “In the event that a local government or school district levies more than the amount allowable under the tax levy limit due to a ‘clerical or technical error,’ the local government or school district must place the excess amount in a reserve in accordance with requirements as prescribed by the State Comptroller. These funds, and any interest earned, must be used to offset the tax levy in the following fiscal year. Further, if upon post audit, the State Comptroller finds that a local government levied taxes in excess of the allowable limit, the local government must place an amount equal to the excess in the reserve.” Cairo residents are upset about the enormous tax bills they are now getting because of an alleged clerical error. "Calculating the maximum tax levy that a municipality can adopt and remain under the cap percentage is not difficult math. This basic math skill is generally introduced and taught in elementary school,” said Frank Algozzine, a Cairo resident who formerly served as Greene County’s director of Real Property Taxes. "To hear of this kind of gross error in the tax levy increase calculation raises serious concerns in my mind about the entire Town of Cairo town budget," Algozzine said. The next Town of Cairo board meeting is at 7 p.m.,, January 9 at the town hall. Read more about this story at Porcupine Soup follows up.