The Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association is expressing its disappointment with the Chautauqua County Legislature.
"They don't get it," said Todd Tranum, Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer. "We don't care about their politics; we care about progress on policy issues that help businesses grow and make people want to invest in Chautauqua County. Instead we have political parties vying for power. We are overtaxed, yet the legislature continues to raise taxes. We ask the legislature to downsize as a means of showing leadership in a movement toward less and more efficient government and we get the status quo."
The legislature recently voted to increase the sales tax from 7.5 percent to 8 percent. The chamber has opposed the sales tax increase, instead calling for a reduction in the size of government and a different distribution of the sales tax dollars to help the county offset state mandated costs and to make up for the costs the county has had to absorb that were once town, village and city expenses.
"We offered to help with the redistricting and downsizing effort because we saw the process falling apart," Tranum said. "In response we were told by the legislature chairman that it is 'their decision' and that they 'don't need our help.' Now some legislators are making the case that they were elected to do this job, suggesting that the business community should stay out of it. It is their job. But they are not doing it. Clearly the legislature is having a hard time providing leadership around this process so we continue to offer assistance. Our invitation to help remains open."
Tranum said the chamber remains opposed to any increase in taxes that would undercut the business climate in the community. The chamber has encouraged the legislature to remove the hold harmless component that was adapted with the removal of the residential energy tax.
"The county removed a tax on residential energy, yet it is still required to pay what the municipalities would have continued to receive as if the sales tax was still in place. Essentially the municipalities have a tax levied on the county for decreasing the energy tax of residents. Someone has to pay that bill and at the end of the day it will be the property tax and sales tax payer,'' Tranum said.
The chamber has also encouraged the legislature to negotiate the 3 percent portion of the sales tax with the municipalities. Currently 3 percent of the 7.5 percent sales tax is split between the county and the municipalities as part of an agreement that dates back to the mid-1960s. Since that time, chamber officials said the county has been asked by the municipalities to take over the Department of Social Services and additional roads and bridges. In addition the county operates the two airports, the 911 emergency system, and provides countywide law enforcement. The county is responsible for the County Home and the landfill, which service residents countywide.
"We believe there is justification for the county to ask for negotiations on the division of the 3 percent sales tax," Tranum said. "At a time when municipalities should be looking at consolidation and dissolution they continue to collect sales tax dollars. That is ridiculous. When will our elected leaders get serious about less and more efficient government?"
The chamber has also encouraged the county to work with organized labor to bring benefits in line with the private sector.
"Despite a recession, county employees continued to get raises and to pay far less toward health insurance premiums than their counterparts in the private sector. It is simply not sustainable," Tranum said. "There is a lot that must be done to build a strong economy here in Chautauqua County and we all have a role in supporting that objective. We are asking the legislature to make some bold changes that help build a strong and sustainable Chautauqua County."