Below is a copy of the remarks I delivered at the public hearing expressing what I think is the best path forward on one of those difficult issues.
TOWN BOARD REMS HEARING 092309
A. I support REMS remaining as our ambulance provider under the right conditions.
B. I DO NOT support a tax district to accomplish that objective.
While I admire and appreciate the effort and dedication that the new administration of REMS and others have demonstrated in their progress toward improving financial affairs at REMS, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in town are against paying more taxes.
Currently, we’re assisting REMS through the general fund – in essence, our current tax dollars have been reallocated to provide this support. That is an approach that appears to be working and I support it in the short-term. In the longer term, I’d prefer to see REMS become self-sufficient.
As a community, I think we all agree that REMS provides a vital public safety service and as a result, we rightly have provided financial assistance through the General Fund. Yes, of course, that’s your tax dollar. But it is a reallocation of your CURRENT tax dollar, not a new tax. IF, as a community, we are in agreement that REMS provides a VITAL, NECESSARY function, then General Fund assistance is the appropriate approach. I believe that approach provides better transparency and accountability than a new tax district would. I also think it allows for quicker financial adjustments to be made if necessary to maintain public safety.
I don’t think we should be in a rush to increase the tax burden, and in no way do I mean to imply that you have not considered matters carefully. But I don’t accept the underlying premise being made about what the tax district will ultimately cost.
---If the cost is expected to be so minimal, then why is the tax district necessary at all?
---If the cost is expected to rise, then isn’t the new tax just as likely to annually increase?
---Lastly, and importantly, does it make sense to create a dedicated revenue stream at this juncture to support an organization in undisputed financial peril? Doesn’t that actually provide a disincentive to manage finances efficiently going forward, knowing there is a tax that could simply be raised instead?
Aside from either of these two approaches is the approach of possible privatization. To ignore it and then lock out the option in perpetuity through the creation of a tax district is a bad move, in my opinion. At the very least, it needs to be considered and explored further. That’s called due diligence.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed to me as I’ve gone throughout town is people can’t afford another tax. At the very least, any further consideration of a tax district should occur through a referendum allowing direct consent of the people. If it takes a referendum to abolish a tax district, then it certainly ought to take a referendum to create one. I’m heartened to learn that a referendum will now be part of any eventual decision.
I don’t think there is a person in this room that questions the importance of reliable ambulance service. There probably isn’t a person in this room that questions the determination of REMS to straighten out their financial difficulties. There’s a lot of fear being peddled with regard to this issue. No one should be afraid. REMS does and is doing a great job for us. I’m confident we can figure out the best approach without compromising public safety or creating a new tax district…because the people need and expect us to.