How should Cortland County distribute its sales tax revenue? Local officials brace for negotiations.

Local leaders gathered at the Cortland County Office building Tuesday night for the County, City, Towns, Villages and Schools Committee meeting (Peter Blanchard/Cortland Voice)

On Tuesday, local municipal leaders gathered at the Cortland County Office Building for the County, City, Towns, Villages and Schools Committee meeting to get a look at how other counties in New York State are distributing their sales tax revenue.

Cortland County has until June 2018 to come up with a new sales tax distribution agreement to replace its current plan, which was adopted in 2013.

Cortland ranks 8th out of 62 counties in the state for distributing sales tax among municipalities, sharing 46.5 percent of its sales tax revenue and withholding the remaining 53.5 percent, according to Ralph Canfield, a Cortland County treasurer who briefed local officials on the statewide figures at Tuesday’s meeting.

Of that 46.5 percent share, the city gets 17.6 percent and the towns and villages share about 28.9 percent, according to the 2013 agreement.

Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said he was optimistic that municipal leaders could come to an agreement while emphasizing the importance of sales tax revenue to his constituents.

“My town can’t grow without sales tax,” Tupper said. “If Cortlandville stops growing, the county is in big trouble.”

There was some discussion as to how the county and municipalities should be spending revenue gained from sales tax. Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin said the revenue should be used for essential services, like police and fire departments.

“The right thing to do is to constantly work toward improved efficiencies,” Tobin said after the meeting. “That’s a visible direction for us to go in.”

Some municipal leaders expressed concern that the county would begin taking a larger share of the sales tax, depriving local towns and villages of a source of revenue.

“I’m not interested in having the county balance its budget on the backs of the municipalities,” Village of Homer Mayor Hal McCabe said.

Shortly after the meeting officially ended, legislator George Wagner told fellow legislator Charles Sudbrink that he would like to see the county keep 63 percent of its sales tax, a significant increase from its current agreement of 53.5 percent.

Sudbrink said both the county and local municipalities need to begin making hard decisions that don’t involve raising taxes.

“It’s pretty obvious. We’ve got to reel things in,” Sudbrink said. “I don’t think the answer is more revenue.”

Shared services plan passes

During Tuesday’s meeting, county leaders voted 9-1 to endorse a shared services proposal that will be submitted to New York State for approval. Marathon Town Supervisor Thomas Adams was the sole dissenting vote.

The plan includes a provision to share the county’s fleet fueling station with the Homer Central School District, whose aging facility fails to meet new regulation requirements.

Under the adopted agreement, the county’s hyper-reach mass notification system--which is used to notify county employees and a limited number of non-employees of emergencies or hazardous conditions--will be expanded to add additional municipalities to alert its residents of breaking news events.

The county also plans to look into the potential benefits of joining the Greater Tompkins Health consortium health care plan.