Town supervisors and village mayors in Genesee County have varied opinions when it comes to the circumstances surrounding changes in revenue distribution from the county that have occurred over the past six months.
Some, such as Batavia Town Supervisor Gregory Post, have voiced their support of the County Legislature, reasoning that lawmakers and county management have acted prudently as they deal with the negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Others, such as Bethany Town Supervisor Carl Hyde Jr., have criticized the legislature for nullifying agreements between the county and municipalities from 2018 and 2019 to make quarterly revenue payments.
It was in May, a couple months into an economic shutdown, when legislators rescinded the authority of the county treasurer to make those payments, action that Legislature Chair Rochelle Stein called a temporary move and pleaded for town and village officials to “hang in there with us.”
Since then, the legislature continued to pass resolutions that provide money to the municipalities, now calling them "voluntary revenue distributions" that are not subjected to a formal contract. The fourth and final payment for 2020 is expected to be approved by lawmakers at their meeting next week.
On Tuesday, Hyde said the county’s decision to cancel the revenue sharing agreement has led to a “lack of trust.”
“They left the towns hanging when the county decided to completely cut the sales tax revenue distribution from the towns, and left us to fend for ourselves,” said Hyde, who is completing his sixth year as supervisor and has three years remaining on his current term. “Yes, there have been some distributions (in 2020) but they aren’t what we were supposed to get.”
Hyde also said he’s not convinced that the municipalities will receive the amounts the county has publicized for 2021, either.
“Until it shows up in the town’s bank account, I’m not taking them at their word for it. They took an agreement that all the towns (and villages) worked hard at to come up with and signed and agreed to, and they just threw it away.”
Town Received 16.2 Percent Less
Final revenue distribution dollar amounts for 2020 released by the county show that the Town of Bethany was allocated $502,644.47 – that's 16.2 percent less than the $599,560 than it would have received if the previous distribution agreement was still intact.
The 16.2 percent is slightly more than the 14.8-percent average decrease across all the municipalities for 2020, Landers said.
Click here for a table showing the 2020 distributions (pdf) (made in four payments) for all towns and villages and the percentage of decrease.
Landers said the first payment was made per the previous agreement with the towns and villages. The remaining three payments were based on current taxable assessed valuations of the municipalities.
“So, municipalities that had recent assessment increases at a higher rate than other municipalities did better than municipalities that had low assessment increases or no assessment increases,” Landers explained. “In the Town of Batavia, for example, because they had more growth, its decrease is less than 14.8 percent (actually 11.8 percent), while some municipalities had higher than 14.8 percent.”
The county manager said the legislature understands the difficulty that this creates for towns and villages, “but we’re just basically trying to share in it and not pass all of our (losses) as we’re projecting a 20-percent reduction in our state aid and a 4 to 5 percent (reduction) in sales tax. So, we’re trying to share the best we can while also maintaining our operations.”
County Allocates $10 Million for 2021
Going forward, the county recently announced it plans to distribute $10 million to the towns and villages in 2021. That represents a 28.5-percent decrease from what it originally planned to share.
The Town of Bethany is supposed to receive $410,123 next year and has budgeted accordingly, Hyde said.
“We’re trying to do what we can to survive with whatever the county gives us, we’re going to use it for road maintenance, to keep the taxes down, things like that,” he said. “We’re trying to get off the county welfare wagon.”
Hyde said his 2021 preliminary budget of $1,100,935 calls for an increase of 28 cents in the property tax rate – from $3.71 per thousand of assessed value to $3.99 per thousand of assessed value.
“It’s better than what it could have been,” Hyde admitted, noting that when the distribution agreement was ended, the town was looking at a tax rate of $9 per thousand.
Fund Balance to be Utilized
He said the budget lists revenues at $476,221 in revenues, fund balance to be used at $226,842 and the tax levy at $397,872. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at the Bethany Town Hall.
“We’ve cut everything – every line in the budget pretty much. We asked all the elected officials if they would be willing to take a 10-percent pay cut, which they did, and the town had to eliminate a person from the highway department,” Hyde said.
Hyde said he and the board “have done a good job over the last six years, not raising taxes and maintaining everything that we need to, and I’m sure the residents are happy about that. This whole thing threw a monkey wrench it in.”
He said he would like to see someone with a financial background “step up” and run for his office in 2023, but until then, he said he will continue to monitor the state Comptroller’s website each month to see how much each county has either lost or gained in sales tax revenue.
“From January 1st through the end of September, Genesee County’s sales tax is only down 7 percent,” he said. “And here we are down (much more than that) because of whatever the county is doing with the money. That doesn’t make sense does it.”
Landers responded to Hyde’s concerns by noting the legislature voted in favor of a resolution to authorize the final distribution of this year.
“That’s why we passed that Rule 19 resolution to try to demonstrate that it’s on the way and it will get paid in the next audit at the legislature meeting on October 28th,” Landers said. “That’s when the payments for the final distribution go through and on that Friday (Oct. 30) is when the ACH (automated clearing house) payment will show up in their bank accounts. For those who don’t have direct deposit, the checks will be mailed out.”
Bethany Signs Plowing, Mowing Contract
In another development, the Town of Bethany has entered into an intermunicipal agreement with the county to provide snow and ice control and mowing services on county roads.
According to a resolution to go before the entire legislature on Oct. 28, the cost per mile for the 2021 snow and ice season is $6,521 and the cost per mile for mowing is $474. This represents a 1.1-percent increase in the rate for snow and ice over the 2020 season and a 2-percent increase in the cost for mowing.
The total annual payment to the Town of Bethany for these services will be $141,961.85 for snow and ice control and $10,328.46 for roadside mowing.
“With this contract, all towns except the Town of Batavia have snowplowing and mowing contracts with Genesee County,” Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said. “It is the most efficient way for us to plow the roads for our residents.”
Hens said the agreement with the Town of Batavia stipulates that the county plows roads east of Route 98 and the town plows roads west of Route 98 since their highway garages are on opposite sides of the city/town.
“Again, it’s the most efficient way. We’ve been doing it that way for 20 years,” Hens added.