COLUMN: Sharing sales tax will only address part of the problem

Every little bit helps.

Creating a “Sales Tax Sharing Committee” in Seneca County to explore the feasibility, interest, and methods of execution was a logical first step. There were many questions, and many questions still remain today.

After the most recent meeting of that committee, the go ahead was given to move the issue to Government Operations, another standing committee within the Board of Supervisors, who could eventually push the issue of sales tax sharing to a full-board vote.

This isn’t a groundbreaking idea, though. The act of sharing sales tax dollars from the county down to individual municipalities is commonplace. It happens in almost every other county in New York state.

I like the principle behind sales tax sharing. It offers assistance to municipalities, especially small or unique ones that have extenuating circumstances.

Take Junius for example: It’s an incredibly small municipality, but one that generates a significant portion of that sales tax.

Another example: Several small municipalities at the southern end of the county could greatly benefit from any amount of money pushed into their local budget.

It all comes down to taxing. Having greater revenues — or at the very least, an additional revenue stream — helps keep local taxes down.

While no precise plan has been put forward, the broad strokes look something like this:

Seneca County would share a certain percentage (say, 50 percent) of additional sales tax revenue over the current, or expected average for sales tax revenue. If the county typically sees $23 million in sales tax revenue, and in 2018 it drives in $28 million, half of that additional $5 million would be divvied up and sent out to all villages and towns.

This discussion of growing sales tax revenue stems from the opening of the del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, which will bring greater traffic and more spending to the county.

While supervisors and mayors around Seneca County seemed to be mixed on how they’d like to see that money split up — whether it be by population, assessed value, or a simple, even split between all — there seems to be mild interest in the subject right now.

Ultimately, it will be a decision for the supervisors. Mayors throughout the county have skin in the game, but they won’t get a vote on the matter, which brings us back to one potential roadblock for this very idealistic plan.

For sales tax sharing to work, it seems that it would require two things to happen:

First, sales tax revenue has to increase. It seems like a forgone conclusion that it will increase to some degree. However, it isn’t entirely clear by how much. Most of those involved seem to just want the mechanism in place; even if it doesn’t yield a huge return in year one, or two, which is a positive sign.

In my estimation though, there is a second requirement to make this system work. Costs and expenses have to be shrinking at the county level. You can have an increase in revenue, but if there also is an increase in expense — whether it be because of a need for greater services in a growing economy or due to growing state mandated expenses — a seesaw effect will be created.

In other words, it comes down to this argument over who is more deserving of spending the money: If a town or village tax goes down, and the county tax is increased, how much is actually gained from the system?

There has to be a better way of addressing the problems that arise at the hyper-local level. Villages and towns are left to fend for themselves, while the county remains the primary beneficiary of sales tax revenue, which is driven by economic development and growth. Small municipalities around the county are stressed by development and growth, which has to be approached with the same big picture mentality that attracts that growth in the first place.

If the county had fewer mandates for which to budget, imagine the benefit that larger entity could be to municipalities within it. Infrastructure — such as water and sewer upgrades, services like fire and EMS and so many more — could all be part of a large, big picture solution that could help every taxpayer across the board.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times. Read all of Josh’s columns from the Finger Lakes Times here.

COLUMN: Skepticism is good for progress in the FLX

Economic development is possible in Seneca Falls.

I wanted to lead this column with that statement.

Parts of rural, Upstate New York have struggled for several decades, as jobs — particularly those in manufacturing — exited the state and country in search of less-expensive places to do business. Our problems are undeniably tied to a state that historically has chosen more government as a solution instead of letting solutions occur naturally.

Taxes have risen, businesses have left, and well, this isn’t news to anyone reading today’s edition of the Finger Lakes Times.

The decision by Seneca Falls to fund a development corporation that will be tasked with advertising and selling this expensive place to do business speaks to how deeply people want to see economic growth.

Born out of necessity, like an Industrial Development Agency, local development corporations sell a difficult-to-market business landscape. There’s no shortage of opportunity, but without the state changing how it does business and without having a team of people dedicated to the cause, selling these rural communities, and bringing businesses back through a variety of means, the development that is so desperately needed cannot happen.

Listening to those who are skeptical of development corporations like the SFDC offers an intriguing insight into the socioeconomic battle taking place in rural communities.

Several people rolled their eyes when they heard the news that the SFDC had “revamped” its marketing with a new slogan and logo.

A particular part of the SFDC’s new message received mixed reviews — the concept of branding and reaching beyond our current borders.

For some, it’s the concept of appealing to people and businesses outside their own immediate circle that’s worthy of an eyeroll. Many of those same people laughed at the idea of Seneca Falls, the birthplace of Women’s Rights, having even regional appeal.

Skepticism is an important part of any political process. It ensures that the ideas and policies being drafted can stand the test. The line between skepticism and cynicism, though, is razor thin.

Skepticism is constructive. Cynicism is destructive and oftentimes contradicting.

Being skeptical of a development corporation tasked with an incredibly difficult mission is one thing. Being skeptical of individual plans carried out by the organization is understandable. When it ultimately has an impact on the entire community — and even those surrounding it — the stakes necessitate a level of skepticism.

Cynicism is what I see out of some people who scoff at the prospect of growth in a place such as Seneca Falls. Their own cynicism for what the area has become over the last several decades has clouded their vision for what this community — and others like it — could ultimately morph into with the proper leadership.

Using the SFDC as an example, it seems incredibly cynical to argue “Who’s gonna wanna come here?!” — as many have over the last several years — while simultaneously saying, “We need [insert name of person/group here] to get out of the way so people and businesses will come!”

The irony is that these two sentiments are often spoken in a flurry together, as people and elected officials scramble to solve our economic and business development issues. The first question implies that no one wants to come to start a business while the second implies that businesses are lining up to come, if only it weren’t for those pesky political and community leaders getting in the way.

Both of those issues are very real things in small communities where nostalgia dominates. People look back at the days when manufacturing was king and all that was needed were a high school diploma and a good work ethic for a 30-40 year career at any dozen businesses in or around Seneca Falls.

That isn’t the case any more, but it’s equal parts unrealistic and misguided to expect a return to some past norm. “Our history. Your future,” the slogan reads proudly. The new plan includes innovation, change, and aggressive marketing. It encompasses old and new ideas — driving growth in the process and provides college graduates, as well as those just entering the work force. A diverse economy that doesn’t just rely on one industry, like in the past.

It’s the introduction of a new era for Seneca Falls: Skeptics welcomed and cynics — hopefully — converted into informed participants in a local economy that did them wrong in years past.

This column originally appeared in the Finger Lakes Times. Read all of Josh’s columns from the Finger Lakes Times here.

PODCAST: Seneca Co. Manager John Sheppard talks new Finance Dept.

Seneca County Manager John Sheppard was in-studio on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a Local Law on the ballot next Tuesday for Seneca County residents that aims to streamline the financial department.

PODCAST: Seneca Co. Supervisor Steve Churchill talks Seneca Falls issues

On Thursday afternoon’s edition of Inside the FLX on FingerLakes1.TV, Steve Churchill, of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors joined Josh Durso in-studio to discuss ongoing issues in Seneca Falls including the new municipal building, Local Law #7 and an aging water system. Churchill is currently serving a two year term as one of the at large supervisors for Seneca Falls on the Board of Supervisors.