December 2, 2021

Changing their minds?

County reconsidering proposed Little York lake taxing district

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

Luis Alvarez fishes for bass Thursday at an inlet of Little York Lake, across from Little York Crossing Road in Preble. Alarez lives a few miles away but often visits the lake to fish and kayak.

A committee of the Cortland County Legislature will meet Tuesday to reconsider a plan to create a special taxing district to maintain Little York Lake following opposition at a public hearing earlier this week.

Legislator Kevin Fitch (R-Homer, Preble, Scott), chairman of the Agriculture, Planning and Environmental Committee, pulled the resolution from Tuesday’s agenda. The committee will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Fitch said several committee members had questions about the taxing district, and a few legislators had received phone calls from concerned homeowners. One concern was that not every lakeside property owner had the income to afford the added tax, and another concern was that once the taxing district is established it will be very difficult to get rid of.

“Others were asking about doing a boat launch fee to help bring in money to go toward the lake,” Fitch said Wednesday. About 1,000 boats are launched onto the lake each year; a $5 fee would generate a third of what the taxing district would bring in. During the public hearing, 10 people spoke in favor of the district; three opposed.

John Saraceno has lived on Little York Lake for nearly 16 years and said he supports having an environmental study to develop a plan for weed control in the lake, but said the welfare of the lake shouldn’t rely on a group of 114 homeowners because the lake is publicly accessible from Dwyer Memorial Park.

“I don’t believe that the people that live on the lake should be carrying the burden of that, above and beyond the taxes that they already pay,” Saraceno said.

However, neighbor Bob Maurinas said his family has had property on the lake for more than 120 years, and the taxing district will help fund the needed lake maintenance, now paid for with property owners’ voluntary contributions.

“I’ve seen what’s happened in the last 10 years, how weeds have choked everything off — the park, people using kayaks and canoes, it’s impacted swimming and a lot of native fish and things like that,” Maurinas said. “Then, I’ve seen what’s happened the last couple of years when we started treating the lake, and what a great improvement it is.”

Maurinas said that the taxing district will allow for full-time lake maintenance, “If we don’t do it now, we’re just going to lose the lake. We’re going to lose it as a public recreation area, our real estate value is going to go down and it’s going to impact the entire local economy.”

The taxing district, if established, would add 99 cents per $1,000 assessed property value to the property owners’ tax bill, raising about $15,000 a year, Fitch said.

“I really don’t believe that we’re taking the right path, from a perspective of lake treatment and from a perspective of sharing the cost of what needs to be done on the lake,” Saraceno said.

Saraceno said he got a dozen signatures from lakeside residents requesting a delay in voting on the district.

“I fear that we’re making a decision based on too little information, without the input of enough people that would be impacted by the final decision,” Saraceno said.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is to tax — taxing at best should be the last resort,” Fitch said. “So we’re trying to confirm some stuff, really get more information on the taxing district itself, listen to the constituents at the public hearing, and then we’ll discuss it further.”