Dutchess County’s energy tax repeal will save us money

The Dutchess County Legislature will soon repeal the unpopular energy tax that drew the ire and anger of residents county wide. It cannot come soon enough. Since the county budget’s adoption in December — which included a 3.75 percent tax on home energy use effective March 1, 2014 — people all over the county have been calling, writing, emailing and filling up the editorial pages of our newspapers almost daily to tell us elected officials how outraged they are that government would consider taxing such a necessity as home heating fuel and electricity. It was the voice of the people — stern, disgusted and at times furious — that deserves credit now that the repeal of the energy tax will soon be effected

With the passage of the New York State Budget on April 1, the State Legislature has delivered millions of dollars in assistance to Dutchess County government so that we can repeal the energy tax. A one-time allocation of $5.25 million ($3.5 for 2014 with the remainder in 2015) was achieved due to the tireless advocacy of State Senator Greg Ball and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett. The money is earmarked for Dutchess County due to its unique situation as a county struggling with a mental health crisis due to the recent closure of its psychiatric institutions as well as a surging jail population with mental health diagnoses (rather than outright mandate relief). The money will nevertheless be used to fill the 2014 budget deficit for which the energy tax had been budgeted.

Readers will recall that the county budget was short this year due to the state’s failure to enact a 2013 mortgage recording tax that the county requested, and that the county government adopted the energy tax to make up the difference. As much as Ball and Barrett can be hailed now for curing the deficit problem in part, we mustn’t forget they were among the same leaders who did not pass the mortgage tax that caused the deficit. Readers may also recall that I voted against and have been critical of the energy tax.

Once the governor signs the budget, the County Legislature will call a special session (likely in mid-April) to restore the sales tax exemption on home energy use, which will end the energy tax — although not immediately. There is a state requirement that changes to sales tax must coincide with fiscal quarters. There is also required 90-day implementation period before the exemption can again be restored. This would mean that absent an exception to the norm that the Dutchess County energy tax will not sunset until Sept. 1. In April when we vote to repeal we will also be asking the state to waive the required 90-day period and allow us to sunset the tax instead on June 1.

The Dutchess energy tax was a governmental overstep that, not unlike the tyrannical Intolerable Acts of Britain in the 1760s, ignited a just fury in the populace. We can be proud of the county’s many residents who — like the Sons of Liberty of centuries past — rose up and took to broadsides to highlight the injustices they experienced at the hands of an overreaching government. But unlike the times preceding the American War for Independence, we can be equally proud of our system of government that allows for the people to participate. It is a system where the people’s representatives are subject to admonishment, and who in this instance will willingly take the steps necessary to bring about the needed change. I detest that the energy tax was levied, but I’m proud of our Democratic-Republic form of government that — as this episode illustrates — is capable of functioning as it should.

Michael N. Kelsey represents the people of Amenia, Washington, Pleasant Valley and Millbrook in the Dutchess County Legislature. Write him at KelseyESQ@yahoo.com.