Schenectady County OKs sales tax formula
City approved deal in Monday vote; grumbling continues
SCHENECTADY COUNTY Schenectady County legislators approved an eight-year sales tax agreement they characterized as being fair to the towns and villages, while providing the city with a guaranteed revenue stream that will help keep it on sound financial footing.
The agreement approved by the city Monday and ratified by the county Tuesday will provide Schenectady with $11.7 million — an increase of $600,000 over the previous deal set to expire at the end of the year. The county’s towns and villages will proportionately share $7.77 million based upon the real property values of each municipality.
In addition, the towns and villages will continue to split 30 percent of the sales tax revenue apportioned to support the Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority. Last year, these municipalities divvied up $3.31 million, a figure that fluctuates based on the growth of overall sales tax revenue throughout the county.
“We believe it’s a fair agreement that preserves revenue streams for all municipalities,” Majority Leader Gary Hughes, D-Schenectady, said during the Legislature’s meeting Tuesday.
As part of the deal, the county will also ensure the city receives $100,000 from the county Industrial Development or Capital Resource Corporation for the purpose of redevelopment or demolition. These same entities will also give $50,000 to the Landbank, with a provision allowing the city mayor to ask for an additional $50,000 if deemed necessary.
Republican James Buhrmaster of Glenville was the only legislator to vote against the agreement. He said the agreement seemed to “lock in” all the county’s municipalities into a long-term deal that seemed to be worked out behind closed doors.
“Nobody knew anything about it before they read it in the paper,” he said.
He also questioned whether the large suburban towns surrounding Schenectady were getting a fair shake. He said the towns of Niskayuna, Glenville and Rotterdam all seem to drive sales tax receipts due to their retail businesses.
The county collected $88.98 million in sales tax last year, which was an increase of 7.89 percent. Metroplex — which receives 0.5 percentage points out of the county’s 4 percent sales tax — took in $11 million in 2011. The state collects another 4 percent of the sales tax.
Towns and villages split 30 percent of the Metroplex pot, leaving the economic development agency with $7.7 million. This funding is used by Metroplex to finance economic development projects in the city and around the county.
Rotterdam landed the largest share of Metroplex sales tax revenue last year with $1.8 million. Glenville and Niskayuna both secured slightly more than $813,000.
On Monday, Glenville Supervisor Chris Koetzle was critical of the pending agreement. He claimed it afforded Glenville “crumbs” in comparison to the tax base added by the town lately.
Likewise, one resident who spoke during the public comment period of the Legislature’s sparsely attended business meeting was critical of the deal, contending it short-changes municipalities so the county can grab more revenue. Another was critical of the seeming lack of discussion in advance of the deal.
Hughes vehemently disagreed with both assertions. In specific, he said the deal wasn’t providing the county with any extra money that isn’t being swallowed up by burgeoning costs imposed by state mandates.
For example, Hughes said the $58 million retained by the county last year wasn’t nearly enough to cover what it paid out in mandates. He said Medicaid expenses alone ran about $35 million in 2011.
“There is not, in fact, money left on the table,” he said.
In other business, the New York State Sheriff’s Association honored the Schenectady County Jail with accreditation. The facility is the 24th in New York to receive the designation, which is determined after the association’s assessors certified that it was in accordance with 166 standards.
Peter Kehoe, the association executive director, said accreditation allows a jail a stronger foundation during lawsuits filed against it and sends a message to the community about the high standards maintained by the facility. He praised Sheriff Dominic Dagostino and his staff for maintaining a very high quality facility.
“It’s a tough, unenviable job they do,” he said of corrections officers. “But here in Schenectady County, they do it right as evidenced by this accreditation.”