Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

August 26, 2013

Napoli 'speaks for small towns' in front of state committee

By HOWARD BALABAN howard.balaban@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — While the president spoke at the University at Buffalo last week, Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli was busy speaking, too.

Napoli was invited to testify in Buffalo in front of a state Senate committee hearing on fiscal and financial stress in local governments. According to him, the only true “small town” represented Thursday was his: Ridgeway.

“I told them I spoke for all small towns, because we need a voice, too,” Napoli said.

He went to the meeting prepared with two lists, one short and one long, since he did not know how much time he would be granted. He also provided the state officials in attendance with a packet of information to support his remarks.

A few city and town officials from Erie and Niagara counties also spoke to the committee, but Napoli said they seemed almost too excited to speak with any purpose.

When his turn finally arrived, Napoli went with his short list of eight topics he felt were of the utmost importance to small municipalities across the state. The topics were the property tax cap, unfunded mandates, broadband access, assessments, DEC/EPA regulations, a proposal on tax reform, opposition to the SAFE Act and the Highway Trust Fund.

In his written explanation handed to the state officials, Napoli explained his points.

For instance, the tax cap, he wrote, “creates an undue burden on local municipalities while making the State look good” and it “does not create any mandate relief.”

Regarding mandate relief, Napoli said a law should be created with a provision that “if the state cannot pay for a program at the state level, they cannot pass it on to the local municipalities.”

With schools increasing their online presence, Napoli said broadband access is a necessity not just for job creation, but for students in rural districts.

“I reminded them that not everybody has access to the Internet yet and they seemed a bit shocked. When I added that there are some rural homes still using wells for water, they seemed even more taken aback,” Napoli said.

As for the SAFE Act, Napoli said its passage was contradictory to the 2nd Amendment and it should be repealed. He added that having it on the books directly affects tourism in places the size of Ridgeway as fewer hunting licenses have been sold, leading to less of an economic boost from visiting hunters.

Perhaps one of the most interesting issues Napoli raised was that of property assessments. He noted how Ridgeway is up to date with its assessments, but some areas in the downstate metro area and on Long Island have been working off assessments that are roughly 40 years old.

“Their jaws dropped,” Napoli said of the state officials. “They didn’t realize that was the case.”

Theoretically, homes with higher assessed values pay more in taxes. However, if an entire municipality goes through a reassessment and the majority of home values increase, it also stands to reason that the tax rate would in fact decrease. In other words, Napoli said, things would even themselves out.

Since some reassessments have not been done, he said the state should enforce non-compliance penalties.

As for taxes, Napoli said New York state should jump to the forefront of tax reform and create a flat tax so that “everyone pays something” while simultaneously doing away with the “incompetent tax code.”

On his longer list, which Napoli did not get a chance to discuss, he called out the State for catering to a segment of the population that has taken the phrase “playing the system” to a new level. He provided the committee with ideas he “borrowed” on ways to fix welfare and Medicaid. 

“I hope they heard what I had to say,” Napoli said. “They seemed to be listening, and at least one said he’d look into things.”