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May 13, 2020 - 2:38pm

Legislature chair asks towns, villages to 'stick with us and hold tight' as county deals with loss of revenue

Genesee County Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein is taking exception to what she says is misinformation about a proposed resolution to rescind revenue distribution payments to towns and villages during the coronavirus crisis.

Reacting today to news that the Genesee Association of Municipalities and the Town of Bergen supervisor are objecting to the measure, Stein said that the resolution to cancel agreements from 2018 and 2019 that authorize the county treasurer to make quarterly revenue payments to the towns and villages is a temporary move that has yet to cause “harm to anybody.”

“The legislature has considered at Ways & Means (committee meeting) that we are going to rescind the authorization for those two agreements so that there is no authority for the treasurer to write those checks,” she said. “That has to happen because there is no further action necessary for the treasurer to just write those checks.”

She said that is the key to the “whole conversation that I think the towns and villages like to just overlook. And the last three words in the resolution to rescind say, until further notice.”

“At no point has the county said there will not be any further revenue distributions. That’s a comment that comes from the towns and villages,” she said. “There are two sides to this story and it’s very unfortunate that our comments and our weekly call and awareness that we’ve been providing (have been misconstrued) because we want our partners to take action like the county has taken action.”

The Batavian has obtained copies of a resolution passed by GAM representatives at a special Zoom meeting on Monday night as well as a letter written on Town of Bergen letterhead from Supervisor Ernest Haywood.

GAM Seeks Alternative Solution

The GAM resolution – passed by a 20-1 vote with the Town of Oakfield voting “no” – reads, in part, that elimination of the funding would cause extreme financial hardships for Towns and Villages, which already have adopted budgets, made expenditures and have borrowing obligations based upon the revenue from Genesee County.

It went on to request the county to continue the revenue sharing, “and if the amount of sales tax is reduced then the amount to be paid to towns and villages … be reduced by the same amount (percentage) as the county sales tax revenues were reduced by.”

GAM President Thomas Dix, a Pembroke Town councilman, contacted today said the members understood the county’s unenviable position … “but they we’re hoping to find an alternative solution that might allow for some more revenue to be shared with the towns and villages – and the City as well, since the City has a unique position.”

Dix offered that the all governmental leaders in the county take their jobs very seriously and are considering the situation “very, very carefully from all angles.”

“They are capable of thinking outside the box and they are capable of disagreeing and compromising on any issue, always in the best interest of the people they serve,” he said. “And I take my job very seriously as president of GAM by making sure that every municipal leader has a clear line of communication with every other municipal leader. Because I believe that it's when communication breaks down that we start to see the worst problems come to the surface.”

Haywood’s letter expands upon GAM’s resolution, stating that “immediate action needed: call or email today as action to eliminate funding is set for Wednesday p.m.”

Indeed, the full legislature has a Zoom videoconference meeting scheduled for 5:30 today and the resolution in question is No. 8 on the agenda.

Bergen Supervisor: Call Your Legislator

Haywood’s letter exhorts people to call or email Legislator Christian Yunker, who represents the towns of Elba, Byron and Bergen, or Stein to “tell them to continue to share, even at a reduced rate, the sales tax revenue with the towns and villages.”

Continuing, the letter states:

“The legislature is set to take action on a proposal that will eliminate the sharing of revenue all together. We understand the county is getting less but the county should keep all they are getting and should continue to share the lesser amounts with towns and villages.

“Tell them to be sure we (County and Towns and villages) are ‘all in this together’ by the county not keeping all sales tax revenue but continuing to share at the reduced rates they receive it. Without the revenue, the town will be in critical financial shape and will ultimately next year have to raise taxes by over 20 percent to accommodate for the loss of revenue.”

A phone call to Haywood for further comment on his letter was not returned by the time this article was posted.

Stein emphasized that the county has continually kept “our partners” abreast of developments coming from Albany.

Stein: Directive Issued on March 28

“On March 28th, I told the chief elected officers of the communities here that the schedule that we had set forward for the revenue distribution – and it’s not the sales tax anymore and we have to be very clear about that – would not be met this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the New York State On PAUSE,” she explained. “The county would not be able to write checks that we could not cash.”

Stein said she repeatedly has communicated that “we are all in this together and together we are going to find a way to be successful regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York State On-Pause, or the state government budget gap of $13 billion and growing.”

“And it is important to remember that this is not our fault,” she said. “But what is important for us is to have a plan moving forward. We have four points of measurement. The first one is a possible federal COVID 4 stimulus directly to the towns, villages and counties. For us, that would be a game-changer.”

She said the county is waiting to hear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding changes to the state budget, expecting between a 20 to 50 percent decrease in state aid for mandated services. Cuomo has specified four measuring periods for adjustments – the first being the month of April and the second being May 1 through June 30.

“As we gain knowledge on each one of those events for measuring where the revenue to the county is and the impact, I’ve asked the towns and villages to stick with us and hold tight,” said Stein, noting that the county has instituted hiring freezes and furloughs along with holds on capital projects. “We’ll have greater clarity and understanding as we move through these time periods.”

First-quarter Payments Have Been Made

Currently, all first-quarter payments to towns and villages have been made on time and per the amounts set by the previous agreements, Stein said.

“Right now, to date, there is no harm to anybody. Together, we can work our way out of this, but we also know that this is not a one-year situation,” said Stein, who also is heavily involved in the reopening of the economy as the Genesee County appointee to the Finger Lakes Region control room. “Our NYSAC (New York State Association Counties) group is indicating this will impact our budget through 2024."

Dix and Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post both said they recognize the county’s plight and trust that the communication lines remain open.

“My own personal opinion as a citizen, I understand that it’s in the best interest of Genesee County residents, although towns and villages do not like the idea because it’s going to hurt their budgets directly,” Dix said. “Once you understand the backside of it and … how the money is being shared and how the state impacts that decision, it is actually probably the best way to protect the interests of the residents of Genesee County.”

Post called the county resolution “a prudent measure” that eventually will work itself out.

“I don’t feel it will be a permanent thing,” Post said. “But GAM wants some reassurance that this doesn’t end the sales tax agreements. I don’t think it will but nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, especially with state mandates. The legislature has indicated there will be candor and transparency.”

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