October 17, 2021

County weighs moving jail revenue to general fund

Cortland County legislators will consider next month a three-year plan to divert $1 million in sales tax revenue meant for jail capital costs to send to the general fund.

The money would still be diverted to county coffers before the county shares the rest of the sales tax with municipalities, a move that brought opposition from municipal leaders when it was established in 2018 for the jail.

The idea comes as the county faces a projected revenue loss between $2.7 million and $4.5 million and no real idea how much state aid it will get — or when it will receive the funds.

“We’ve never seen a pandemic before and I hope we don’t again,” Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) said Thursday night during a Legislature meeting. “It wasn’t expected. I, for one, fought to have that jail reserve started. It was something I wanted to do before I became a legislator, so I want to throw that idea out there to us to consider in the future.”

In 2018, the county entered into a 10-year sales tax agreement with municipalities to $1.5 million off the top each year in sales tax revenue, of which $1 million would be used to fund a jail reserve account to repair or replace the 28-year-old Cortland County Jail. The county would also keep 54% of the remainder and send 17.75% to the city and 28.25% to the other municipalities.

If the city and county continues the agreement for the final five years, the county would continue to take $1.5 million off the top. The county then would get 55% of the remaining sales tax distribution, the city 17.38% and towns and villages 27.62%.

Heider said he spoke about the idea to both Cortland City Mayor Brian Tobin and Homer Village Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe — both of whom have been staunch proponents of making sure the sales tax agreement is followed as written, even after the city initially opposed it.

The county diverted $600,000 from the jail reserve fund in February.

McCabe said after the meeting he understands the situation the county faces.

“We’re in an unprecedented crisis right now and decisions are going to have to be made to keep the county moving,” he said. “I think they need to look at every possible option.”

Tobin could not be reached for comment this morning.

“It’s nice that you reached out to the city mayor and the village mayor, but out of respect there were more people at that table with that agreement so I would hope that the county would reach out to the municipalities as well to inform them because that was part of the agreement,” said Legislator Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble, Scott).

“Mr. Fitch, that was my sole intention to reach out and to speak personally to every town supervisor and the mayor of Marathon because I wanted to get this idea out here to us today,” Heider said.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to make those calls.”

Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-Cortland) said he supported the idea but thought the county should take a larger share.

“But if we’re going to reach out, why don’t we ask the towns and villages for 10% or 15%” of their share, he asked.

“How about the city?” Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer) replied.

Sheriff Mark Helms also said he understands where the idea is coming from, considering the budget problems COVID-19 has caused the county.

“I don’t love that they have to move money that we need to use for the jail, but on the same token I understand we have to look at many options,” he said this morning.