By VINNIE BELLARDINI, NEWS DIRECTOR
Last night’s (October 24) full session of the Cortland County Legislature was busy, tense and filled with important topics affecting all county residents.
Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know:
Budget & Finance Chairman George Wagner moved to pull a resolution to authorize the lifting of a state tax cap associated with a recommended 7% levy increase in the tentative 2020 County Budget.
Dozens of residents packed the gallery, several of whom spoke at public hearings beforehand to voice their opposition of the proposed hikes.
The entire meeting lasted just short of three hours, with genuine urgency visible at nearly every moment of that time.
Stories were shared; tears were shed; and voices were ultimately heard.
Legislators would move to postpone the measure later on in the meeting, hoping to find more success this time around with cutting their individual department spending plans.
However, Budget Chairman George Wagner did say lifting the cap was a “insurance policy” which the county had used several times in the past and could still revisit if nothing comes of the meetings left to come.
Their ultimate goal is to absolve a more than $2 million spending deficit that’s been rolling over year-to-year.
Chairman Kevin Whitney reminded the Legislature of it’s inability to do so over the previous workshops held for that very purpose:
“We are a month into this and not one single change has been made,” Whitney said. “It’s time to go to work because it’s crunch time, and I’m not so sure what you’re going to find because when I go to the meetings, all I hear is ‘restore; add a position.’ I haven’t heard a single thing about cutting.”
Another special budget meeting is now planned for Monday (October 28) to continue the process.
City collection fee
Another contentious issue came up last night to address a new collection fee the city imposed on the county this year, which so far has accumulated a $123K bill.
Mayor Brian Tobin enacted the fee earlier this year as a direct response to changes in county sales tax distribution, which passed through in January 2018 and left the city, as well as other municipalities, with a lesser share.
As the fee is currently set up, it would be paid from the same General Fund that’s already short $2.4M, but the county discussed last night the possibility of instead including it on the property tax bills of city residents.
Several legislators pointed the finger at a lack of cooperation with the mayor and other city officials, including Homer Legislator Linda Jones (LD-9):
“I feel sorry for the city taxpayers, but it’s their own mayor who has caused this,” said Jones. “He imposed this and now he’s costing his homeowners [$130K].”
City legislator Ron Van Dee (LD-4) also spoke on the subject:
“I tried to sit down with the mayor and Mack Cook (city finance director), and the meeting ended in people stormy out of the room angrily,” Van Dee Said. “This is about sales tax – no question about it. I work in the city, and I can’t support them doing this.”
WXHC News reached out to Mayor Tobin for comment, who reiterated the city’s position about the collection fee as payment for its tax-collecting services.
Currently, the city provides these services to itself, the county and the school district.
“Discussion about the city charging for a service we provide is distraction from the fact that the 2020 county budget isn’t close to balanced despite a huge increase in (sales tax) revenue to the county.” Tobin said. “The leadership in the county legislature needs to stop blaming the city for their shortcomings.”
Tobin said he and other officials were surprised when legislators presented them with their plan to charge the collection fee to city-county residents at the tail-end of a meeting on workers compensation last Wednesday (October 16).
Ultimately, the proposal was also postponed to allow for potential negotiations between leaders on both sides.
Also at last night’s meeting, the legislature approved a centralized arraignment plan months-in-the-making that begins the process of establishing a 24/hour arraignment center.
This will be made up of two locations, namely Cortland City Court and a new Centralized Arraignment Partition within the Public Safety Building on Greenbush Street.
Officials hope the plan will help speed up trials relieve backups in the local judicial system.