MAYVILLE - The Chautauqua County Legislature passed a resolution Wednesday night to ask the state for an increase to the local sales tax rate.
Also a part of the resolution was language dealing with what's been called the county's "Hold Harmless" to towns, villages and cities.
As described by County Executive Greg Edwards, the "Hold Harmless" is an annual payment totaling $2.1 million from the county to local municipalities. Edwards has said the payment is made from the county's coffers each year. He has also described the "Hold Harmless" as being a payment of tax revenues from a tax which the county is no longer collecting.
Jamestown City Councilman Vince DeJoy addresses the Chautauqua County Legislature during its regular April business meeting.
P-J photo by Nicholas L. Dean
As such, Edwards proposed eliminating the "Hold Harmless" as part of the sales tax resolution.
The Audit and Control Committee, however, changed his proposal to phase out the "Hold Harmless" over three years rather than eliminate it all at once.
Neither of those proposals passed the legislature Wednesday night. The resolution which ended up passing the body was one with an amendment proposed by Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown.
Nazzaro's amendment to maintain the "Hold Harmless" payments was passed unanimously by the legislators present at the meeting, though Bob Scudder, D-Fredonia, did later speak against it during the meeting. The resolution as amended was ultimately passed by the body, though not unanimously.
So while the legislature voted 15 to 7 to ask the state for an increase to the local sales tax rate, the county will not be eliminating the "Hold Harmless" at this time.
OFFICIALS SPEAK OUT
At the start of the meeting, several local elected officials took to the microphone to address the body on the "Hold Harmless" proposal. One of those officials was Don Steger, the town of Pomfret town supervisor.
"What this is doing," Steger said of the proposal, "is this is shifting the tax from the sales tax to a property tax because, ultimately, I can't see any of these communities on here being able to absorb the reduction in funding."
Steger continued on to repeat the sentiment that the elimination of the "Hold Harmless" is similar to Albany passing down mandates and other expenses to the county. He concluded by calling any vote in favor of the idea a vote to increase property taxes.
"Just so everybody's aware, anyone tonight who votes in favor of this is ultimately voting for a tax increase in our local taxes," he said. "It may not happen this year, it may not happen the following year, but, ultimately, by the reduction in revenues to any municipality, they're going to have to make it up and ultimately it will be made up in property tax if this payment to the municipalities is eliminated."
Jamestown City Councilman Vince DeJoy also spoke, reiterating many of the points he had shared with The Post-Journal prior to Wednesday's meeting.
"I do not think it's fair," DeJoy said of the proposal. "I do not think it's right and I do not think your constituents will agree with what you are proposing. ... It's not right. You are putting that burden on our back and I don't think it's fair. I hope that you amend it tonight so that this so-called 'Hold Harmless' is eliminated and you ask the state for a reasonable amount that can be met that we can expect and that you don't put us in the situation where we're going to lose that additional situation and then really be in a challenging position."
Later in the meeting, during a recess called for by legislators, County Executive Greg Edwards responded to the public comment by saying Steger and DeJoy were "absolutely wrong."
"The premise is all wrong that they're approaching this with," Edwards said. "This isn't a transfer of a tax. This isn't somehow shorting them. It's money that we're no longer collecting.We're not holding money back from them. We're not giving county taxpayers' tax dollars to other municipalities. That's all that we're looking to do."
Edwards also called DeJoy's comments factually incorrect and spoke at length about the state. His full comments can be found online at the Mayville Bureau Blog at The Post-Journal's website. Also on the blog are comments from former Assemblyman Bill Parment about the "Hold Harmless" issue.
"My frustration is," Edwards continued, "and I'm sure it's shared across all the municipalities in New York state, but my frustration is the state demands more, our revenues are down and so we have to make tough decisions. We can no longer afford to gift to any municipality sales tax dollars we no longer collect. ... People need to understand that this is currently a gift of taking county taxpayers' tax dollars and giving it to county municipalities because we're no longer collecting a tax of sales tax that's shared because we just don't collect that money anymore. So it's no longer a sharing, it's just a gift from the county."