TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY—Tuesday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature was a relatively brief affair compared to some recent meetings, as budget season draws to a close and other business gradually returns to the foreground.
The second meeting in October consisted of a vote on budget amendments, further progress on the merger of public health and mental health services, and an interesting conversation on the suspension of the sales tax on heating in the county of Tomkins.
The budget amendments were briefly discussed, though Tompkins County Legislator and Budget Committee Chair Deborah Dawson notably said she didn’t believe she could support them. His objection rested on the fact that the budget would leave the county in an operating deficit (although it is covered), calling it “fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable” and apparently extending that description to the multitude of amendments.
She based this assessment on the fact that the operating budget technically leaves the county in a multi-million dollar hole, which would be covered by additional funding as a one-time expense to ensure that the tax levy (the amount of money asked of taxpayers) remains unchanged in 2023. She thought it was a bad idea, and although other lawmakers said they understood it was a gamble, they supported the amendments. The full budget will be voted on next month, after a public hearing.
“If we’re wrong, if we’ve made any assumptions here and bets that turn out to be poor judgment or just turn out to be incorrect, we can correct them next year, just like anyone can in any world. any budget, either by cutting spending or finding more revenue,” said lawmaker Dan Klein. “I don’t think that dooms us to anything. If the worst-case scenario happens, we can correct it next year, and if not, we have done a very good thing by providing many services and keeping the tax levy unchanged.
“If it goes south, we’re going to have to make some tough choices,” lawmaker Mike Sigler followed, also adding that the budget adds jobs to the county. “But that doesn’t mean, to me, that we’re withholding money that was kind of overpaid to us. People are suffering, just as the government may suffer later.
The amendments passed 12-1.
Suspension of the heat tax
A resolution tabled by Sigler members generated the most conversation of the night. Citing escalating oil and gas prices, and with higher prices rumored, Sigler proposed that Tompkins County suspend its four percent tax on fuel oil, natural gas, wood products and electricity. Although he initially called for the change to be made only during the cold season over the next six months, ending May 1, 2023, he decided to propose a permanent end to the tax at the last minute.
The resolution was not supported by the Budget Committee, leading Sigler to present it to the full legislature. He presented similar proposals several times over the years, although they were never approved.
The county earns about $2.6 million a year from the tax (apparently when electricity is included, though that’s unclear), according to Sigler’s comments. His resolution pointed out that there is no sales tax on food, which is essential for survival, so why should there be a tax on heat, which is just as essential?
“The fundamental issue is taxing the things that people need to live, I don’t think we should,” Sigler said. Sigler said removing the tax wouldn’t mean the county would simply lose that $2.6 million, but acknowledged it would likely be replaced by property tax increases to make up the shortfall. These, however, are inherently means-tested, as the larger a property, the more likely owners are to pay property taxes.
“That’s why I’m presenting this,” Sigler said. “I don’t know if it will pass or not, but I felt that I had to move on. Frankly, I got more responses to this than anything I presented last year.
Legislator Amanda Champion agreed with the general intent, but felt more information was needed, such as total cost, income replacement, etc. In a somewhat similar fashion, lawmaker Greg Mezey said he would be more willing to support the legislation if it was fleshed out a bit. more – Sigler’s proposal was either succinct and direct or brief and sterile, depending on your preference.
“Think for a second about the Tompkins County property taxpayers and the extra burden they carry in Tompkins County because of all of our tax-exempt properties,” said lawmaker Mike Lane. “One of the ways they get some relief is through sales tax.”
Lane said he understood that “Sigler’s heart is in the right place,” but was unwilling to support him for the reasons given. Dawson also said she couldn’t support it, but also argued that the “heavy economy is as hard on us as it is on our taxpayers,” and said the county needs to be able to provide the services it needs. people are used to it.
Lawmakers Anne Koreman and Veronica Pillar also declined to support. Pillar made a point of saying that she disagrees with some tax practices overall, but that implementing legislation that would take more than $2 million from the budget was not feasible. . She expressed interest in working on something similar in the future, as did lawmaker Lee Shurtleff.
The budget measure ultimately failed.
Other news and notes
- Near the start of the meeting, lawmaker Henry Granison announced that he would be leaving the legislature to devote himself full-time to medical treatment as he faces a persistent health situation.
- The Legislature voted to approve the refund of a small amount of the mortgage registration tax paid by the Asteri Ithaca project in downtown Ithaca. The return is the result of an error on the part of the developers of the project, who were not aware that they did not have to pay the mortgage registration tax under their tax relief program. The city of Ithaca returned all the money once the developers realized their mistake, according to Dawson, but the county will only return 15% of the payment since 85% of that payment ($105,124) has already been paid to the funding for the TCAT, as required by law.
- The long-awaited merger between public health services and mental health services has moved forward again, with a public hearing scheduled for next month.
- The county approved more spending for its consultant who administers the Tompkins County Recovery Fund grant program. Demand has been far higher than the county had anticipated: Legislator Dan Klein said there have been 154 submissions so far, 49% from nonprofits and 34% from small businesses.