The following was post was submitted to the Star Gazette as a Your Turn editorial on October 12, 2018 by me (Christina Sonsire) and Tony Pucci, candidates for Chemung County Legislature.
On October 9th, we attended a meeting of the Chemung County Legislature during which it voted to change the way sales tax revenue is shared between the county and its municipalities.*
The issue of whether sales tax revenue is shared in the most economically sound way for our community has been hotly debated since 2013. At that time, Chemung County was facing significant fiscal hardships. Arguing that all municipalities aside from the City of Elmira had too much money in the bank, the County enacted a plan that took money from these municipalities in order to shore up its own finances.
The plan worked in part. The County was able to avoid a tax increase; however, many of the municipalities began to experience significant financial stress.
The Town of Horseheads levied a tax for the first time in 30 years. The Village of Van Etten voted to outright dissolve. The Village of Elmira Heights is teetering on the edge of solvency. The Towns of Veteran and Chemung are facing potentially significant tax increases. The Town of Elmira has been on New York’s “Fiscal Stress List” since 2016. The Town of Southport halted all plans for infrastructure projects and buildings, and the City of Elmira, even with ample shared services agreements, had to impose a 17% tax hike this year. All you need to do is attend a budget meeting for any of these municipalities to learn the truth of their precarious financial conditions.
Despite plenty of objective facts, County officials have insisted the municipalities except the City are in excellent financial shape, dismissing calls for sales tax reallocation as a convoluted campaign ploy. Indeed, responding to these very arguments last spring, Chemung County Treasurer Joe Sartori said Ms. Sonsire “could ask [people facing foreclosure] if they are okay with municipalities holding their tax dollars in reserve. She could get their thoughts as to whether the county should give away their tax dollars without requiring reasonable restraint with regard to spending.”
This is precisely what makes the vote on October 9th so confounding.
As it turns out, the new sales tax allocation plan actually gives more money to the towns and villages. If the towns and villages are doing as well as we have been led to believe, why does the County want to give them more money? We have each asked this question to County officials many times since the new plan was unveiled, but have not yet received an answer. As Mr. Sartori pointed out, it is not fiscally responsible for the County to give away your tax dollars without a purpose.
But, if many of them have been harmed, as we and others have pointed out exhaustively over the past year, the intent behind the new sales tax plan is commendable even though it is questionable whether the plan goes far enough to provide adequate relief.
We must wonder how soon the County will have to revise their revised plan. Instead of rushing into an agreement with so many unanswered questions, it would behoove the County to conduct a more thorough analysis, not just to get a deal done, but to get a deal done right.
Thanks for reading,
Christina & Tony
*It should be noted that the new plan passed with a vote of 12-2, with Leg. Rodney Strange and Peggy Woodard voting against it.
[…] since we decided to run nearly a year ago. The piece was previously featured in a blog post found here, and is embedded […]Loading...
Christina, I considered submitting a question about the topic of the countywide municipal police department for a debate question. However, the view of an individual doesn’t matter (to me) because that opinion is based on their knowledge and personal bias. I am not saying that as a criticism of any of the candidates because I respect each for their willingness to work for the greater good. However, this controversial issue should be the discussion of everyone who is impacted by the change. Without that representation and input, the final product won’t be balanced or trusted. At best I would like each candidate to say they believe the topic is important enough to discuss and they support the idea of establishing a representative committee to do that. It would be up to the committee to determine if the notion has value or not and provide reasons for their decision.
I am a strong advocate for shared services if the point is to reduce cost while increasing service. There are still many areas to discuss that haven’t been brought up. For example, we have the same redundancy in county/city/town/village government that we have in our police agencies. Many of those political position are being paid to represent the exact same taxpayer and yet because of a title find themselves pitted against one another; doesn’t make sense and is a system destined to repeat its mistakes.Loading...
Actually the tax reallocation was a stroke of genius on the part of the Chemung County administration. It is said “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Not true in this case – the County can boast they have not raised taxes in 14 years yet forced many municipalities to raise theirs to offset the loss of sales tax revenue. As I said in a previous post on your blog, money taken from the taxpayer pocket is still money taken.
The frustrating part about all of this is that it is all about money – taxpayer money. Yet, when there is the potential (Countywide police department) for real tax savings, no one wants to discuss it. As you know I posted on your blog (thank you!) and the Star-Gazette the need to discuss the notion of a county-wide police department. The resulting silence was deafening! I get it, no one wants to discuss such a controversial topic because they might lose votes. But I also get that if you believe in something strong enough, you should be willing to lose votes and stand by what you believe in. Sadly, after the election no one will talk about it because it will seem to big (it isn’t) to take on. That is why a model has never been completed; that and the self-interest of a few at the expense of many. Even if I’m wrong about the cost savings, a hard look should be taken at the idea of a county wide police department so we all can explain why it won’t work. Personally, I believe it would result in significant state money coming our way as well as large tax dollar savings.
I appreciate your willingness to post my earlier entry and for having the strength of character to allow an opinion that might be different from your own – its why I think you’ll make a tremendous difference as a county legislator.Loading...
I also could not agree more with these sentiments, Jim. What is the point of serving in government if you are afraid to tackle difficult topics? It is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about term limits, especially for the legislature.
The topic of a countywide police force is arguably the most politically unpopular topic right now, but it – along with an evaluation of whether we have the best form of government for our type of community as I mentioned above – are the obvious discussions we need to be having.
Questions can be submitted to Frank Acomb ahead of the October 24th debate among the county executive candidates by sending an email to ChemungDebate@gmail.com. This may be a good way to find out where each of them stand on the law enforcement issue.Loading...
thanks for your response. I was the county union president for a number of years. I just think that we have too many layers, but, of course trying to peel them will be tough. I look forward to your forward thinking!Loading...
I could not agree more, Lorna. I hope that whoever is elected this fall is willing to ask those types of sweeping questions, as there has not been a wholesale evaluation of whether the type of government we have suits us best in a very long time. In fact, that last time they were asked was in 1973 when we moved to a charter form of government and created both the County Executive’s position as well as the Legislature. It’s time for some genuine introspection if we really want to move our community forward.Loading...
I have always been of the opinion that our county doesn’t need layers of goverment. it’s important to note that over time schools districts have been regrouping, shared services in goverment is successful.
I think (to myself) why to we need a county execitive, a city mayor, and town supervisor? all paid .. ₩all with a governing body. in addition we have town, city County and sheriff police. why not metro government, police/fire?
I believe that it would make sense (thinking way out of the box) intentionally planning for a county wide restructure of all the above. thanks for letting me commentLoading...