They say suburban taxpayers will see bills that are about $200 higher than last year.
Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature believe the county executive's recently-adopted FAIR plan does mean suburban taxpayers will be paying more in property taxes starting in January.
Legislator Ted O'Brien, D, Irondequoit, says that by taking $160 million, to pay for Medicaid, off the county's $400 million in sales tax revenue, the amount shared with suburban taxpayers on their county tax bills will be reduced.
Currently, he said, town and village taxpayers in the county share in $55 million, which shows up as a sales tax credit on their county tax bills and is subtracted directly from the total bill.
O'Brien says that with the FAIR plan, that $55 million will be reduced to $41 million, since the total sales tax "pie," so to speak, has been reduced to $240 million (with the $160 million Medicaid bill coming off the top).
He's so convinced that the plan "shrinks" the sales tax credit, in fact, that O'Brien filed a referral (bill) titled "Protecting the Sales Tax Credit to Monroe County Taxpayers" to the legislature on Oct. 5.
Five days later, on Oct. 10, he received a terse reply from Monroe County Legislature President Wayne Zyra, who rejected O'Brien's referral, saying it "constitutes a motion to reconsider (the entire FAIR plan), which is out of order."
O'Brien said his motion was simply an attempt to clarify an issue that will directly affect the wallets of suburban taxpayers.
"I won't rest until I have an answer," he said at a press conference in the offices of the Democratic caucus in the Monroe County Office Building Thursday morning, Oct. 25.
County spokesman John Durso said Thursday afternoon that the sales tax credit will continue under the county executive's FAIR plan.
Durso didn't say how those credits might continue to be funded, however, under the FAIR plan. He did say the continuation of the credit will be reflected in the county executive's budget for 2008. He said he didn't know when that budget will be presented, but that it must be filed by Nov. 15.
"I'm suspicious of promises made," said Legislator Harry Bronson, a Democrat whose district includes portions of Rochester, Henrietta and Brighton, "when we don't have the budget in hand or know if they have found a way (to fund the sales tax credit)."
The questions around the sales tax credit, said Democratic Legislator Steve Eckel, whose district includes portions of Rochester, Irondequoit, Gates and Greece, illustrate that the FAIR plan will be hurting taxpayers not only through increases in school taxes, but in a variety of ways.
The FAIR plan also reduces, by half, the amount of sales tax revenue that now goes to schools across the county.
He points out that county taxpayers will also be seeing a larger figure on the "county services to localities" line on their county tax bills in the form of a new "charge back" for the number of Monroe Community College students in each town.
The county currently funds MCC to the tune of $14.3 million, a bill now going to the towns.
The increased auto registration fees also proposed in the county executive's FAIR plan will cost taxpayers another $3.5 million, O'Brien estimated.
Considering all of the impacts of the FAIR plan, the total net county tax increases to town taxpayers ranges from a high of $341 in Ogden to $125 in East Rochester, the Democrats said. The average suburban taxpayer will pay around $200 more.
O'Brien said that he can only hope that the county's school districts, who have filed a lawsuit hoping to block the intercept plan, is successful, since it calls for keeping all sharing partners whole.
He believes that if the courts side with the school districts, it will also protect town taxpayers and the sales tax credit, O'Brien said.
"As a lawyer who has looked at the (state's) intercept law, it doesn't appear this (the FAIR) plan will hold up in the courts," O'Brien predicted. "The county may then have to call its plan what it really is – a tax increase."
Linda Quinlan can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 350, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.