WATERLOO — In the past, the idea of Seneca County sharing any of its county sales tax revenue with towns and villages was rejected out of hand.
In June 2015, former Covert Town Board member Charles Bosman made an appeal for the county to share any increase in sales tax from the casino, rather than keep it all to itself.
Former board member Keith Kubasik spoke against sharing, saying the county provides the most services, has the most mandates and keeping the sales tax benefits all taxpayer by keeping their county taxes low.
The committee did not act on Bosman’s proposal.
But at Tuesday’s meeting of the Finance, Assessment & Insurance Committee of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, the idea wasn’t summarily dismissed. Nor was it approved, but it was agreed that it should be studied and considered.
That may give hope to the Waterloo Village Board, which sent a letter Feb. 9 asking the county to consider sharing its sales tax revenue with the financially-strapped towns and villages.
The village trustees said it is timely with the prospect of the del Lago Resort & Casino opening in early 2017, causing a likely jump in sales tax revenue.
The 2016 county budget includes an estimate of $23 million in sales tax revenue, a significant portion of the county’s $71 million budget.
“We are requesting that the county implement a sales tax sharing program consistent with the vast majority of other counties within the state,” the Village Board letter stated. “With the advent of significant economic development, the county can soon afford to share incremental sales tax dollars generated within the local governments within its footprint.”
The Village Board said the towns and villages are “constantly challenged” with providing and absorbing the cost of all municipal services, especially public safety.
“To now give back to these communities so they can maintain such services is both a moral and fiduciary responsibility of Seneca County,” the letter states.
It was referred to the finance committee and came up Tuesday.
Committee member Bob Shipley of Waterloo said he was in Albany recently and saw a newspaper article about Sullivan County. That county also will be getting a casino and has received a request to share additional sales tax revenue with towns and villages in that county.
“Their response was that they don’t know yet if there will be an increase in sales tax revenue, but they would wait and see if there was and then consider the request at that time,” Shipley said. “I say if we see a bump in our sales tax revenue, we should consider sharing it with the towns and villages.”
He suggested that once a threshold or baseline of sales tax revenue the county would need to meet its obligations and not increase property taxes, the board could consider giving some of anything above that amount to the towns and villages.
He suggested giving 40 percent to the county’s 10 towns and four villages and setting aside 60 percent for economic development activities.
Seneca Falls Supervisor Greg Lazzaro, who is not on the committee, said the issue is important and significant enough to merit a separate board workshop “so we can understand and discus it properly.”
“Doing this tonight is not giving it due diligence,” Lazzaro said.
Shipley agreed and said County Manager John Sheppard will accumulate data and a work session will be scheduled.
Ovid Supervisor Walt Prouty, committee chairman, said sharing may be a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” if county taxes go up so town and village taxes can go down.
In another matter, the Environmental Affairs Committee agreed to take up an offer from State Sen. Mike Nozzolio, R-54 of Fayette, to set up a meeting with state Department of Environmental Conservation solid waste officials from Region 8 in Avon to discuss Seneca Meadows Landfill issues.
Shipley said while in Albany, he talked to Nozzolio about the landfill’s odor concerns and the proposal to take New York City trash by rail for the next 20 to 30 years.
“He asked what he could do. I told him it was mainly a town of Seneca Falls issue because they have a benefit agreement with the landfill and it’s their zoning laws that are at issue with the trash trains,” Shipley said. “I also told him we had asked for help from the DEC to explain things to us about the landfill. They wanted us to all come to Avon and would not send someone to come here.”
He said Nozzolio agreed to try and have DEC officials schedule a meeting with the board on the landfill.
Sheppard was asked to contact Nozzolio to help set that meeting up, emphasizing that it would be in Waterloo.
Seneca Falls Supervisor Steve Churchill said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., helped secure a grant for Finger Lakes Railway to construct the rail siding across from the landfill to serve as a transloading facility for agricultural commodities.
“But I don’t think she knows that the rail siding would also allow the railway to take New York City trash to the landfill,” he said “I think we should let her know that.”
The committee agreed.
Churchill also said he’s been told that the landfill has about 70 employees now, significantly fewer than when it operates its own construction division.
He said the county Industrial Development Agency provides financial incentives to the landfill, partially on the basis of retaining or creating a specific number of jobs.
“Should they give some of that money back if they are employing fewer people than they said they would in getting the assistance?” he asked.
The committee voted 5-0 to ask the IDA to withdraw its financial aid when it comes up for renewal in June. That motion will now go to the full board April 12.