October 27, 2021

County to vote on keeping more sales tax

Cortland County Seal

Cortland County legislators will vote Aug. 27 on whether to take $250,000 in sales tax revenue that would normally fund jail repairs and put it into the county’s coffers.

The money would be used to cover “a lot of our lost revenues,” County Administrator Rob Corpora said Tuesday during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting.

The gap in the budget will be due to an estimated $2 million loss in sales tax revenue and an estimated $3.4 million loss in state aid. It would be the second time this year the county has tapped the fund.

The resolution to transfer the money passed the Budget and Finance Committee, 6-1.

Legislator Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble, Scott) voted no because it went against the original agreement set up with the county’s other municipalities. Legislator Beau Harbin (D-Cortland) was absent.

Legislature Chairman Paul Heider (R-Cuyler, Solon, Truxton) discussed the move with a number of municipal leaders, including Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin and Homer Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe.

“…And specifically Mayor Tobin and Mayor McCabe said these are difficult times and we understand that you have to make these critical decisions that are different than what we agreed to basically,” Heider said.

Heider also said the resolution must be phrased to divert the money before it even got to the jail reserve account, rather than transferring it from the fund.

“I believe as part of the governor’s executive order for this COVID time you can take money out of a reserve but you have to pay it back,” he said. “Whether that will change in the future, I don’t know.”

Tobin and McCabe said Wednesday afternoon they understand these are difficult times for the county.

“I understood desperation would hit us all, and we would have to do a lot of different and creative, sometimes even unpleasant things, to try and manage our budgets,” McCabe said in an email Wednesday afternoon. “Clearly, I’m not thrilled, but I was unhappy with the sales tax sharing ‘agreement’ in the first place, as it penalized residents of the village of Homer. But given the extreme and dire situation, Paul asked me and I told him I would understand and be OK if they used that money in the general fund.”

However, McCabe said that he would not be OK with additional changes to the agreement, especially if it further reduced the amount of money the village gets because that would fall back on the taxpayers.

The county entered into the 10-year sales tax agreement with municipalities in 2018 to take $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 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.

“But to my knowledge no such additional changes are planned,” McCabe said. “I think Chairman Heider is working VERY hard and is doing a fine job considering the situation we are all in. I’ve tried to support him through this because I know this is not political, this is about the survival of Cortland County at this point.”

In February the county approved, 15-2, taking $600,000 from the $1.8 million fund to spend:

  • $250,000 to hire a consulting agency to help the county revamp its operations.
  • $29,675 on membership dues to the Southern Tier 8 and Central New York Regional Planning Board.
  • $320,325 for a buildings and grounds capital project reserve.