Don Blanchard has seen people come into the Railyard restaurant from all over the country and many have asked him a simple question:
"How do you afford to live here?"
It's a question that's vexed not only Blanchard, but also business owners all across the state as they have consistently battled with hefty property-tax increases in recent years from local municipalities and school districts.
The Railyard restaurant and the building that houses the Ccaboose, both owned by Don Blanchard of Gloversville, are shown on Thursday. Blanchard said between these properties and his home in the city, he has paid between $8,000 and $9,000 in property taxes last year.
The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo
However, businesses were given a bit of reprieve last week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature passed legislation to limit the annual property-tax increases to 2 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is lower.
"It can be a start," said Blanchard, who estimated he paid between $8,000 and $9,000 in property taxes last year on his business and personal properties.
The cap will take effect for the 2012 fiscal year for local governments and the 2012-13 school budget year.
For school districts, the 2 percent cap may be exceeded with 60 percent of a public vote. For local governments, the cap may be exceeded with the approval of 60 percent of the governing body.
The cap would sunset at the end of 2016, unless rent regulation laws in New York City are extended, in which case the cap would continue as long as rent regulation laws remain in effect.
According to a news release from the Business Council of New York State, businesses paid nearly 44 percent of the total property tax levy in the state, $21 billion, in 2010. That's up 5 percent from 2009, which was 6 percent above 2008.
Wally Hart, president of the Fulton County Regional Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said the chamber has been supportive of a cap on property taxes. He said the cap will give businesses a little bit of certainty when it comes time to preparing their budgets for the following year.
"We do our chamber budget in November, and last year, I estimated 15 percent increases across the board," Hart said. "By the time I do my budget, I know what's going on with the school district, but I'm estimating the county and the city. Now, I'm assuming I can budget a 2 percent increase across the board. Knowing that makes it a little easier to budget."
It also may make it a little easier to expand employment with less money being sent toward the tax levy.
"Businesses can be able to plan and add to their employment base and be successful. They need to have a number and need to know where it's coming from," Hart said.
However, both Hart and Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Auspelmyer expressed concern about mandate relief from the states on the school districts and local municipalities.
"The concern is where the shortfalls are going to be made up," Auspelmyer said. "There have been discussions on mandate relief and how it will play out in communities."
A new mandate relief council will review municipal and school district complaints about burdensome regulations. A two-thirds council vote would refer them to the governor for repeal or modification.
"It's going to be painful for the school districts, but we're looking at having a known quantity," Hart said. "I think that's something the business community has been looking for."
Mike Zummo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press has been used in this report.