County Legislators Discuss Waiving Heating Fuel Tax

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A proposal to waive off Cortland County’s heating fuel tax — which taxes natural gas propane, electricity, steam, fuel oil, and wood used for heating purposes at a 4 percent tax rate — was struck down at the Finance and Administration Committee on Tuesday.

The motion was made to vote on the item by legislator Mitchell Eccleston (R-LD-17), but there was no second to that motion and the proposal was unable to move forward. Last year, the county garnered close to $692,000 in heating fuel sales tax, according to county administrator Rob Corpora. In total, the county collected $37 million in sales tax last year, he said.

For Eccleston, the measure signified a chance to help working families in the county.

“There are people who cannot afford to even pay for the fuel. How can they pay an additional tax?,” he said. “Nobody cares, the government doesn’t care. I care, I am bringing this up and I won’t let it go. There is no reason to tax heating fuel. People will freeze. The additional tax is an additional burden.”

Corpora said waiving the tax wouldn’t be simple. 

“All I ask is that you keep in mind that if you take the tax off, it affects all the municipalities and the city as well,” Corpora said.

According to Eccleston’s calculations, residents would experience $200-$300 in savings throughout the winter months if the tax were to be waived.

“It is a lot of money for some people,” Eccleston said. “People contacting me are mostly working couples who wouldn’t qualify for federal and state heating programs.”

Programs such as New York’s Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) have restrictive income thresholds, Eccleston said.

“Constituents are just not aware of these programs sometimes,” said legislator Linda Jones (R-LD-9), who opposed the measure. “ I will not go along with this. Our expenses as a county are going up.”

Legislative Majority Leader George Wagner (R-LD-15) echoed Jones’ sentiment, noting he is worried about financial hardships that could come along in the future.

“We need to exercise caution. If this is a motion, I would hope it is for a period of two years only,” he said. “We are on the heels of inflation, and then there comes recession. Money is going to get even tighter. I would adjust it for caution’s sake.”