The permissive referendum that would approve the creation of a special taxing district for residents who own Little York lakeside property in the towns of Homer and Preble could happen in May, according to Homer town supervisor Fred Forbes.
The Cortland County Legislature recently unanimously voted in favor of the special election, which would require 51 percent of the vote to swing in favor or against the new tax collecting district, according to Preble town supervisor James Doring.
The district, known as the Little York Lake Protection and Rehabilitation District,” would tax at least 114 private residents in a designated area surrounding the lake. The Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) would utilize the funds to clean up invasive species and perform overall maintenance for the wellbeing of the lake alongside the Little York Lake Preservation Society. If approved by voters, the district would start collecting taxes in 2023.
In a letter presented to legislators in October, Little York Lake Preservation Society president Gary Lawrence noted he would like to see the funding for the district to be based only on the assessed value of property within the district.
“At this rate the tax on a typical one or two family home would be approximately $141,” Lawrence said.
Donald Fisher, the Little York Lake Preservation Society’s treasurer, has said in the past the district has support of at least 80 of the 114 residents in the area who could be taxed. The organization submitted 25 notarized petitions to legislators, expressing support for the taxing district.
Although the county is aiming for the special election in May, the date has not been set yet. Only property owners who are registered to vote at their lakeside address can participate in the referendum.
“It’s just a slow process moving through all the avenues. The main concern is we want everybody to be informed and to have a chance to vote,” Forbes said, noting some residents tend to leave for warmer states during the winter.
Forbes recognized the efforts of lake conservation authorities.
“It has got to go to the people, and the (Preservation Society) has been at this for a couple years,” he said. “I think the district will only serve to enhance the property values around. The referendum is a better way for residents to express themselves, rather than a five-member town board making that decision for them.”
Doring took a similar approach to Forbes, noting it is ultimately up to the property owners to make the decision.
“I am neither for it or against it. I will just allow the (property) owners around the lake to decide,” Doring said. “There is a cost to maintaining that lake, and this forces the people to all pay the same amount for that maintenance.”
Property owner Christine Pacheco commended the preservation society on their efforts to keep the lake clean.
“The Preservation Society has done a tremendous amount of work to rally the residents to mitigate the weeds, to make the lake a more habitable and user-friendly place,” she said. Pacheco noted 75-to-80 percent of residents in the proposed district have contributed to these efforts for the last several years. “The outcome has been night and day. People can now boat and use the lake.”
Pacheco said she would like to see all property owners contribute financially.
“Seventy five percent of lake residents are contributing, but a 100 percent of residents are reaping the benefits of that. In a democracy, that just doesn’t seem fair,” she added. “Nobody else is stepping up to take ownership of the problem.”
At first, Pacheco said she supported the idea of the district, but concerns regarding the assessment of the property values, as well as the tax rate, still linger.
“I think what may have gotten lost in the message is some of the details around the assessment,” she said. “When the lake residents began hearing more about the district, we were not terribly thrilled having our property reassessed. I am not even sure of all the details. There hasn’t been enough communication with the residents who are going to be affected.”
Some of the questions Pacheco has revolve around how the value assessment will change overtime, and how the Preservation Society came up with the tax rate.
“Who ran the numbers? What happens when, as time goes on, are our properties going to be continued to be reassessed? Taxes could go up continually. How is that going to impact us?,” Pacheco wonders. “For myself, my husband and some of the neighbors, this is where the concern comes from.”
Pacheco and her husband Manny run a Facebook page titled Little York Lake NY Neighborhood. It acts as a hub for its 361 members to post photos of the lake and share information regarding news that focus on the body of water.
“(My family) has been contributing to the Preservation Society,” Pacheco said. She noted that she pays for a $50 membership, and donates close to $200 every year to lake conservation efforts.
Pacheco noted she would like to see a resolution soon.
“If this isn’t resolved, then we are not going to keep property on our lake and others feel the same,” she added. “Otherwise, it is going to continue to cost us more money to retain the value of what we purchased once upon a time.”