Well, city taxpayers, get ready to start celebrating.
Forget about begging Albany for more money. The good people of the Town of Brighton, backed by the Brighton-Pittsford Post, have come up with a way to help solve the city's financial problems:
Get tax-exempt properties to pay for the services they use.
Monroe Community College is located in Brighton, and the West Brighton fire department has to provide service to the college. And because MCC is a school, it doesn't pay taxes. That means it gets the fire department's service for free. And according to last week's Brighton-Pittsford Post, about 16 percent of the fire district's calls are related to the college.
MCC, says the Post, is talking with the town about possibly paying for those services.
What an absolutely splendid idea! And let's bring that idea into in the city. Get the University of Rochester to pay for the services that the city provides. All of that gorgeous campus --- including the dorms --- is tax exempt. All of the Medical Center is tax exempt. The university doesn't pay a dime when the city sends cops or firefighters there. City taxpayers do.
Let's get county government to pay for the services its city properties use. Let's get churches to pay. And museums. And the federal government. And the county water authority.
This would not be loose change, friends. Thirty percent of the property in the City of Rochester is tax exempt. Thirty percent!
Some of that property is used strictly by city residents, of course: city schools, City Hall. And some of the exemptions go directly to city residents: veterans and senior citizens who get a reduction on their property taxes, for instance.
But a lot of the exemptions go to institutions used by people throughout the region. Who uses Strong Hospital? Who uses the Strong Museum, the Eastman Theatre, the Metro Center Y, the downtown library, the Red Cross? Who uses Highland Park and the Seneca Park zoo?
Not just city residents.
Who pays for the fire and police protection for those places? Only city residents.
A Brighton-Pittsford Posteditorial last week noted that the ESL sports center --- which is partially tax exempt --- gave the West Brighton fire department $7000 last year to offset the cost of services. MCC, the Postreasons, should do the same for its dorms.
Said the Post:"The school, one of the town's largest properties, can --- and should --- pay for its share."
In the same issue, the Post'sBenjamin Wachs argued that actually, the new dorm shouldn't be built in Brighton at all. It should be built downtown. On one level, Wachs' idea has merit. As he notes, downtown's future rests in large part on increasing the number of people who live there. It might make sense to build a dorm near Renaissance Square, to serve MCC's new facility in that complex.
But that would add to the amount of tax-exempt property in the city. And city taxpayers will already take a hit with Ren Square itself, which will be built on heretofore taxable property.
So... fair is fair, yes? If MCC is gonna pay Brighton, then MCC, the University of Rochester, and all the other tax-exempts should pay the city.
I can hardly wait to see this play out. Who's gonna be first in line?
Pay now? Later? Never?
How wonderful to be the government of the State of New York and just thumb your nose at a judge.
Yet another court has said that the state is violating its own constitution by not providing nearly enough money for New York City schools. The state had appealed a lower court ruling that said the same thing, but on March 23, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court rejected that appeal. New York, said the court, "must appropriate the constitutionally required funding."
The plaintiff in the case, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, has argued that because the state doesn't provide enough aid to the New York City school district, the district can't hire enough qualified teachers, pay them enough, keep the buildings in good condition, and in a myriad other ways meet the needs of its students. Therefore, CFE has argued, New York is violating its constitutional guarantee of "the opportunity for a sound basic education."
Urban school districts throughout the state have been following the case closely, believing that it will be politically impossible for the governor and the legislature to ramp up funding only for New York City.
Maybe. But we'll never get to that point. While CFE called the ruling a "major victory," Governor Pataki in effect dismissed thoughts that the court had ordered the state to do more than it's doing.
In the end, this latest ruling will have no more effect than the previous ones. The state has fought the CFE case since it began --- more than 10 years ago. It has ignored previous, clear orders to provide more money. These are only city schools, after all: city schools with predominantly poor, minority students.
And so there is no public outcry. No rush by the state legislature to set things right.
And for Pataki, there's more incentive than ever to drag his heels. He'll be out of office in less than a year.