Committee Members Present: B. Harris, P. Stockin, J. Burdick, P. Curran, D. Fanton, J. Ricci
Others Present: G. Barnes, D. Bigelow, C. Clark D. Decker, W. Dibble, K. Dirlam, J. Donigan, K. Graves, G. Hanchett, S. Havey, D. Healy, K. Hooker, J. Hopkins, C. Knapp, B. Riehle, D. Root, T. Ross, M. Washer
Call to Order: The meeting was called to order at 1:30 p.m. by Budget Committee Chairman Brooke Harris.
Sales Tax Report
County Treasurer Terri Ross distributed the 2021 Allegany County Sales Tax Report reflecting receipts totaling $3,932,421.41 through March 17, 2021. The year-to-date figures show an increase of $92,555.53 or 2.410 percent more compared to last year at this time. Ms. Ross noted after taking the Distressed Hospital Fund diversion into account, the County netted $3.8 million in sales tax. Committee Chairman Harris asked if the $129,411.49 was the 2020 diversion. Ms. Ross stated, yes, that diversion was for the 2020 – 2021 state budget, adding going forward in 2021, the diversion will be taken in quarterly payments. Mr. Harris asked if there is potential that the Distressed Hospital Fund will not be withdrawn if it doesn’t make it through the state budget. Ms. Ross stated, yes, if they revoke that from the budget, we won’t see it affect our sales tax. Legislator Healy asked for more details regarding our sales tax diversions for the public that may be watching the meetings. Committee Chairman Harris stated the state is diverting our County sales tax to use for their own purposes. The largest diversion is the Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, also known as AIM payments. This is a withhold of our County sales tax revenue to make payments to towns and villages that previously received this aid from the state. The second largest diversion is the Distressed Hospital Fund which is a withhold of our County sales tax revenue to support financially distressed hospitals and nursing homes throughout the state. Legislator Healy asked if it is correct to say that instead of the state reimbursing them, they are taking our funds to do it. Committee Chairman Harris stated, correct, and by doing that it affects the levy, adding when you reduce our sales tax, the money has to come from somewhere.
Legislator Barnes asked if there is a way to determine how much of our sales tax is coming from internet sales as opposed to local sales. Ms. Ross distributed the Allegany County Total Taxable Sales Comparison from March 2020 through November 2020 stating that in 2020, our internet sales ranked number 2 in our top 20 compared to 2019 where they were ranked number 6.
Ms. Ross continued from 2019 to 2020 internet sales showed a 105 percent increase. Committee Chairman Harris noted this chart only reflects data to November 2020, and it would be interesting to see how December looks with holiday shopping. Ms. Ross noted that in 2020 restaurants fell by 18 percent and gas stations fell by 21.5 percent.
Ms. Ross indicated that NYSAC was concerned about wired and wireless carriers as every county in NYS showed a decrease; however, every county also showed an increase in information services as cable networks were declassified. Ms. Ross noted that category could not have decreased as everyone was trying to get internet in order to work from home. Chairman Crandall asked if we normally get this report or if it was a special report generated for the counties. Ms. Ross stated we have gotten this report the last couple of years, adding NYSAC put together this for us and they usually pick a certain timeframe to report on. Chairman Crandall asked if there is a way to break this report down even further to see what kind of sales tax we’re experiencing as a result of our development at Crossroads. Ms. Ross stated we are one jurisdiction which is what this report reflects, adding it’s not based on locality.
Ms. Ross distributed the revenue reports through March 15, 2021, stating it’s early in the year and a lot of items have not been claimed. Ms. Ross continued it looks like we’re in good shape and nothing appears alarming to her. Committee Chairman Harris asked if it appears we are receiving full reimbursement. Ms. Ross stated 2020 claims were put in at being reimbursed 80 percent, and some claims have been paid at 100 percent and some have not. Those claims that were paid at 80 percent are starting to be reimbursed for the 20 percent hold.
Tax Foreclosure Sale
Ms. Ross referenced the Tax Foreclosure Sale that should have been held in 2020 but had to be cancelled due to the Executive Order passed by the Governor that denied ability to foreclose or evict people. Ms. Ross continued that they didn’t file the County’s default judgment before the shutdown and once the courts were closed, they couldn’t get it filed. In that time frame, the County did extend the time for owner reacquisition which allows owners to pay their taxes with a small reacquisition fee. Ms. Ross went on to stay they opened that up to every reacquisition property we have with the thought that we couldn’t move forward with the tax sale anyway, and by doing that, we were able to take 37 parcels off our list. Ms. Ross stated the time for reacquisition is still in effect today because the Executive Order is in effect until May 1. Ms. Ross briefly discussed our delinquent tax comparisons for the last 5 years noting changes being due to tax and assessment changes. Ms. Ross stated her goal is to combine the two years of outstanding foreclosures and hold a tax auction in 2021, noting they are ready to go and send out notices as soon as the Executive Order is lifted. Ms. Ross indicated she will be seeking permission at the next Ways & Means Committee meeting to go out to bid for a new auctioneer, adding that COVID- 19 taught us we might not be able to have gatherings like we have in the past, and we need to be able to offer online services as well, so she is looking for someone that is able to provide both to us. Committee Chairman Harris asked if they can expect the continuation of allowing non- occupied owners to make payments and recoup their property. Ms. Ross stated if they do that, we have to adjust our policy, as this allowance was done under Executive Orders. Mr. Harris stated it is worth exploring as the eviction moratorium is having a snowball effect, adding we have local property owners who owe properties outright but rely upon rental income for upkeep and taxes. Mr. Harris continued the situation we’re in now will continue on longer than the actual pandemic, and it is always preferable to keep the property with the owner as opposed to foreclosing due to back taxes.
County Impact Report
Committee Chairman Harris stated that NYSAC has put out the County impact report. Both the Senate and Assembly have rejected the diversion of AIM payments and support shifting the financial responsibility back to the state. Mr. Harris continued that both houses also rejected the Distressed Hospital Fund entirely from the state budget. Mr. Harris indicated that they were split on shared jails with the Senate accepting it and the Assembly rejecting it.
American Rescue Plan
Chairman Crandall referenced the recent announcement of the American Rescue Plan and its impact on local governments, and asked for an overview as we move forward. Committee Chairman Harris stated on March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan that includes $350 billion to go to local governments. Of that $350 billion, we are estimated to receive $9 million with towns and villages estimated to receive $5 million. The County’s portion is
directly from the federal government while the municipalities portion will go through the state. Mr. Harris noted that half of the County’s allotment is due within 60-days of the bill being signed. Mr. Harris went on to say that the total amount to go to towns also includes funding for the villages within their borders, and their payment cannot exceed 75 percent of their annual operating budget. Committee Chairman Harris stated we are aware of the County’s funding and Administrator Knapp and Treasurer Ross are staying on top of it. As of right now, there are few guidelines on what the funds can be utilized for, but we are going to continue following it and, as always, try to be good stewards of what will eventually be the County’s money. Legislator Stockin asked what people should do if they have questions. Committee Chairman Harris stated they should rely on their state associations and provided references such as the Association of Towns, Senator Schumer’s office, and the Conference of Mayors.
There being no further business to come before the Committee, the meeting was adjourned at 1:57 p.m. following a motion by Legislator Stockin, seconded by Legislator Ricci, and carried.