OBSERVER Mayville Bureau
MAYVILLE - Wednes-day night was a mixed bag in Mayville. The resolution requesting an increase to the county's sales tax rate passed the legislature, but not with the elimination of the "Hold Harmless" as it was proposed.
Earlier in the meeting, the proposal to set the downsizing number at 19 and put the issue to the public for vote failed to pass, falling only two votes short. Neither vote split strictly along party lines.
The resolution regarding the sales tax rate passed in a 15 to 7 vote. The local rate will not automatically increase as a result of the vote though. Wednesday's vote was only the first in a three-step process, according to county officials. The county's request will now go to Albany and will have to be passed by both the state Senate and Assembly before returning to local lawmakers.
As it was amended by the Audit and Control Committee last week, the request was for an increase from the current 7.75 percent rate to a flat 8 percent rate, not the 8.25 number requested by County Executive Greg Edwards. Lawmakers also pointed out during the meeting that if they did nothing, the county's sales tax rate will drop to 7 percent in December.
In addition to bringing down the rate, Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, was the legislator who proposed keeping the "Hold Harmless" share of the sales tax to local municipalities which Edwards and Republican legislators described as a "gift" payment. Going into the meeting, the Audit and Control Committee had proposed phasing the payments out over three years, but Nazzaro's amendment to maintain the payments was passed unanimously.
Nazzaro and Republican legislators pointed out repeatedly throughout the evening that the revenue the county will receive from the increase in the sales tax rate will help to offset the impending deficit.
"First of all, I don't like raising any tax - whether it's property or sales tax," Nazzaro said. "But we have to be fiscally responsible here and take accountability for what we're doing here tonight. And I think it is absolutely necessary to have a sales tax increase to bring in additional revenue in addition to the other cuts that we're going to have to implement."
Along with Nazzaro, fellow Democrat and Audit and Control Committee member Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton, supported the sales tax resolution as amended. They were the only two Democrats to do so. The rest of the 15 votes in favor of the resolution were from the full 13 members of the Republican majority caucus. Both Bob Duff, R-Sheridan, and Vickeye James, D-Jamestown, were absent from the meeting. Independence Party member Scot Stutzman, of Jamestown, left the meeting shortly after it started for a family emergency.
The seven "no" votes were cast by Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; John Gullo, D-Fredonia; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown, and Minority Leader Rudy Mueller, D-Lakewood.
Republican lawmakers said during the meeting that the proposal would require strong bi-partisan support if it is to stand a chance passing in Albany.
A similar vote from 2004 was referenced early on in discussion of the issue, when a proposal to increase the county's sales tax rate was similarly before legislators. Ahlstrom commented on how the party's positions on the issue were reversed at the time. He also explained why he would not be voting in favor of the resolution. George Borrello, R-Irving, followed his comments with a request to legislators to put the partisan politics aside and do what needs to be done.
"Let's put the partisan politics aside and let's understand one thing that's very clear here," said George Borrello, R-Irving. "If we eliminate every single non-mandated service, we are still looking at a $2 per thousand increase in our property taxes.
"So what can we do here?," Borrello continued. "Well, we can do one thing. We can look at the fact that this is the lesser of two evils. We do not want to raise taxes, but we do understand that there are people that come to this county every summer to spend their money and they pay sales tax and those are the people that perhaps aren't paying property taxes, most likely aren't paying property taxes. They are not necessarily paying any other of the burdens that we share as the taxpayers for this county."