November 27, 2021

Hearing set on 2019 county budget plan

Cortland Standard File Photo

Main Street in downtown Cortland is shown in this file photo.

The Cortland County Legislature will consider adopting its 2019 proposed budget Thursday night, and approving occupancy tax allocations, which at the moment could result in several downtown Cortland events being canceled.

Residents can comment on the spending plan during a 6 p.m. public hearing at the beginning of the Legislature meeting.

Meeting set

What: Legislature meeting and public hearing
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, November 29
Where: County Office Building
Featured: County budget, occupancy tax allocation

The Legislature has proposed a $134.2 million budget, which carries a 1.3 percent property tax rate increase, to $15.37 per $1,000 assessed property value from $15.17 per $1,000 this year.

When the county was first putting its budget together, it faced a $2 million gap, Legislature Chairman Kevin Whitney (R-Cortlandville) said in a written statement. To close the gap, the county is proposing a 2 percent increase to its tax levy — to $35.4 million from $34.7 million. Also $1.2 million from the county’s unappropriated fund balance was used to balance the 2019 budget.

When presented last week, the proposed budget represented a 0.3 percent decrease in spending, from the $134.6 million 2018 budget. That may change Thursday night, if the Legislature also approves four proposed amendments to the budget, endorsed Monday by the Budget and Finance Committee.

The amendments include:
• Removing income of about $220,000 from the budget — projected to be collected from a yet to be passed traffic ticket program
• Distributing $72,000 from the county’s general fund to four tourism-related agencies.
• Giving an additional $25,847 to the probation department to return a support position to full-time from part-time.
• Changing the landfill tipping fee allocations for two solid waste funds to $3 per ton of the fee — from the $1 per ton to the landfill closure fund and $4 per ton to a Solid Waste equipment fund.

Cortland County Information Technology Director Rob Corpora said the amendments should not change the tax rate or tax levy.

The county has until Dec. 20 to adopt the budget.

Occupancy tax allocations

Legislators also will consider a resolution to allocate occupancy tax to several tourism-related agencies and events.

The county has $500,000 to allocate this year, about $70,000 less than the county had last year.

There was $737,000 in requests for funding this year, said Meghan Lawton, executive director for the Cortland County Convention and Visitors Bureau, and member of the occupancy tax allocation committee.

“Across the board, just about every agency that applied for funds faced cuts, because the truth of the fact is we didn’t have the money that we’ve had in previous years to hand out,” Lawton said Monday during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting. “However, we looked at each agency individually and we really took it under due diligence to look at what it is they are bringing to the county.”

The Cortland Downtown Partnership, Cortland YMCA, Holiday in Homer and Homer Winterfest have been recommended to receive no occupancy tax.

Homer Winterfest is not a 501(c)(3) agency, and organizations must be a 501(c)(3) to be able to get the occupancy tax. Holiday in Homer did not submit for funding last year and still went on, so the committee decided to not give funding to an event functioning on its own. The committee also stated it did not allocate funding to the YMCA because the sponsorship and registration for the Cortland Triathlon should cover the advertising budget.

The Cortland Downtown Partnership requested $45,000, and according to the committee, it unanimously decided funding for any event or festival should be given directly to that festival — not the partnership.

Due to the recommendation to allocate no funding to the partnership, Adam Megivern, the organization’s director, said in a statement last week that Cortland County’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Cortland has been canceled.

The cut in funding would also eliminate Chill-A-Bration, Taste of Downtown, Cortland Main Street Music Series, The Great Cortland Pumpkinfest, The Downtown Living Tour, the Cortland County Halloween Parade and First Light next year, Megivern said.

The Main Street Music Series was recommended to get $2,000 and The Great Pumpkinfest was recommended to get $3,000.

“Occupancy dollars come from overnight stays, plain and simple,” said Mary Robillard, president of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and member of the allocation committee, during Monday’s meeting. “An event that just brings in internal events, yes they bring in sales tax dollars, but they don’t bring in overnight stays. So, if we’re not bringing in overnight stays, those dollars don’t raise. That’s why you see some things coming down.”

Several Budget and Finance Committee members expressed displeasure Monday with the way the occupancy tax was allocated.

Legislator Kelly Preston (R-Homer) said she would vote no on the occupancy tax allocation. She argued Holiday in Homer does bring in people from out of town who come in for their class reunion.

Legislator Ron VanDee (D-Cortland) said he thinks the cuts should have been equal across all agencies and events.

“We did have a suggestion to cut it equally across the board,” Robillard said. “But if you do that, then the organizations that are bringing in the overnight stays are being hit significantly.”

The Cortland Downtown Partnership has a link to a message on its Facebook page asking people to attend the Thursday night Legislature meeting and speak against the occupancy tax resolution.

The county is holding a special Budget and Finance Committee at 4 p.m. before the Legislature meeting.

While there was no agenda posted for the committee meeting as of this morning, the resolution for occupancy tax allocations on the Legislature meeting agenda states it is pending consideration for amendment by the Budget and Finance Committee.