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The Chemung County Legislature passed four important resolutions when it met on October 16, 2019. Notably, all four of these resolutions were initiated by the Legislature, a healthy step toward making this branch a more proactive partner in local government.

Cold War Veterans Exemption

New York State allows veterans of the Cold War to receive certain property tax exemptions if the county in which the veteran lives passes a local law allowing him or her to take advantage of it.

Chemung County adopted a Local Law in 2001 to provide certain property tax exemptions to veterans who served in “wartime” defined as World War I, World War II, the Korean War (1950-1955), the Vietnam War (1961-1975) and the Gulf War (1990-present). However, this law did not provide the exemptions to veterans who served during the Cold War (1945-1991) but whose service fell outside these designated “wartimes”.

The local law unanimously passed by the Legislature last night seeks to rectify this inequity. It allows veterans living in Chemung County who served during the Cold War to receive certain property exemptions regardless of when their military service took place so long as it was entirely outside of a “wartime” described above.

Legislative Vice Chairperson John Burin wrote a memorandum explaining the background of the Cold War Exemption along with a detailed fiscal analysis found here and embedded below:

Specifically, the local law makes Cold War veterans who do did not serve during “wartime” eligible for a property tax exemption of up to 15% (not to exceed $12,000) of the assessed value of their property, and up to 50% (not to exceed $40,000) of assessed value for veterans who suffered a service-related disability as determined by the military.

Vice Chairperson Burin’s fiscal analysis shows that despite the significant economic benefit to Cold War veterans for qualify for this exemption, the impact on taxpayers (conservatively estimated at $1.40 for property valued at $100,000) is minimal:

A copy of the local law can be found here, and information about how to apply for the exemption is found here.

I am proud we have been able to extend this benefit, and am very thankful to Sue Johnston, a Chemung County resident, for all of her efforts to bring awareness to this issue.

Complete Streets Policy

As described in a prior post, I took an excellent class at the University of Montana School of Law called “Legislative Drafting” that allowed law students to draft bills and present them to the Montana State Legislature.

Building off that experience, I was able to partner with BOCES New Visions program and Paul Richmond, a program administrator, to provide local high school students with the opportunity to draft resolutions and present them to the Chemung County Legislature.

After wading through many pitfalls, I am proud to say that one of the New Visions’ initiatives passed last night!

Jackie Kinner (Horeheads), Catriona Huber (Horeheads), Olivia Vandalen (Odessa), 2019 high school and New Visions graduates, chose to work on a Complete Streets policy for Chemung County. In general, communities with Complete Streets policies pledge to take all aspects of road design – including pedestrian and cyclist safety and accessibility – into account when engaging in highway and street projects. Aside from doing indepenednt research, the students met with Chemung County Buildings and Grounds Director Andy Avery, spoke with Big Flats Town Supervisor Ed Fairbrother, and one of them attended a meeting of the Emergency Management Council in order to gain greater understanding of how the policy works.

An overview of what the students presented can be found here, and a copy of it along with a video of their presentation to the Legislature’s Highway Committee are embedded below:

Although the students’ initiative was tweaked a bit by County Executive Moss and County Planning Director Nicolette Wagner, it passed unanimously last night. A copy of the final resolution is found here and embedded below:

Community Fund Development Distribution Policy

In 2010 Chemung County entered into an agreement with Casella Waste Systems, Inc. wherein Casella agreed to pay $150,000 annually to Chemung County and Chemung County agreed to use the money to further “public purposes” in the areas of education, tourism, the arts, recreation, health, social services, public infrastructure, and the conservation and preservation of community, historical and cultural resources.

Until now, the Casella Community Fund money (as it is commonly known) was placed in the county’s general fund and, to the best of my knowledge, distributed throughout the year at the discretion of the county executive.

The Legislature created and unanimously adopted a new distribution policy changes things dramatically. Starting next year, individual legislators and the county executive can make application to the Legislature for use of teh funds in accordance with this process:

It should be noted that there are significant restrictions to the kind of projects the money can be used to support:

A full copy of the new policy can be found here and is embedded below:

It will be interesting to see how the policy works. Having a pot of $150,000 at the start of the year with fifteen legislators and a county executive who have lots of different ideas about how it should be used has the potential to invite a hunger-games type atmosphere. However, after having viewed how this Legislature works over the past ten months I am optimistic we will be able to work together to find projects that are in the community’s best interest overall.

Legislative Audit Committee

Finally, a few weeks ago County Executive Moss used an Executive Order to create an Audit Committee that will review the county’s financial transactions and provide feedback to the legislature.

The committee created by Moss consists of three members: one appointed by the county executive, one appointed by the county treasurer, and one appointed by the legislative chairperson. Any of the committees’ members of can be removed by the county treasurer at any point for any reason.

Last night the Legislature unanimously voted to create its own Audit Committee that seems to better reflect best practices of financial oversight. Most fundamentally, the members of the committee should be fully independent of the entity they are overseeing.

To that end, the Legislative Audit Committee is comprised of seven members: three legislators appointed by the legislative chairperson and two members-at-large who are not employed by Chemung County, one of whom is appointed by the legislative chairperson and the other by the county executive. In addition, the county executive and legislative chairperson will sit on the committee in ex officio (i.e. non-voting) capacities.

There does not appear to be any reason why both audit committees cannot coexist. The Executive Audit Committee can provide feedback to the county executive, county budget director and county treasurer in any manner they see fit, while the Legislative Audit Committee can provide the Legislature with the the oversight information it needs to provide an adequate check on county financial transactions.

A copy of the resolution can be found here and is embedded below along with several documents outlining best practices in this area.

Christian Sonsire