Numbers still up despite closure of Kmart
BELMONT — Allegany County’s sales tax figures continue to buck conventional wisdom, with numbers continuing to climb despite the closure of the county’s lone department store early this year.
In its latest monthly update, the county generated $262,078.69 in sales tax over the same period in 2018, Treasurer Terri Ross reported at the October Budget Committee meeting.
Overall, the county is up 2.6 percent over 2018, beating last year’s total by $431,678.46 at the latest benchmark.
“That’s a good thing. I don’t know why (it’s up), but people are shopping or buying cars or something,” Ross said. “That’s a good note.”
The county is currently projected to easily exceed the $20.5 million it budgeted for sales tax revenue in 2019. The latest forecast has the county bringing in just over $21.9 million for the year. That would continue the recent trend, as 2018 also beat the 2017 sales tax figure.
However, in the tentative 2020 budget the estimated sales tax amount has been reduced by $500,000 to accommodate AIM funding. New York state has shifted the financial burden of Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) from the state onto the counties using funds generated by new internet sales tax laws.
Ross said the state will sweep the first AIM payment Dec. 6 to pay Allegany County towns, with another, smaller sweep in the spring to pay the villages.
Historically the AIM funding figure has been steady, but Ross said there is some concern among the counties of that changing in the future.
“That’s one of the fears that the counties have. Now that they’re going to push it to the county’s budget, that they will authorize increases in AIM payments, and it’s off the state’s budget and it will be in our budget,” Ross said. “They claim we’re going to get equal or more internet sales (to make up the $500,000), but there’s no way to either confirm that or deny that.”
Ross added that the impact of adding internet sales tax could still lead to a windfall for the county.
“If we could get a million dollars in internet sales, they’re only going to take the $500,000 they need to pay the towns and villages. We’ll get the difference of that,” Ross said in response to an inquiry from Committee Chair Phil Curran (R-Alfred). “They’re not sweeping all of our internet sales. They’re only taking part of our sales tax to pay the towns and villages.”
“That in itself is bad enough, a mandated half a million dollars,” Curran said.
If the internet sales do not cover the AIM payment, the state will still be collecting $500,000 to cover the program.
“As we’re working towards the budget for next year, at a time when we have the tax cap in place and they talk about not wanting property taxes to go up, this is a half million dollar hit to our next year’s budget,” said Board Chairman Curt Crandall (R-Belfast). “The internet sales, it was pointed out that some of the rural areas like us without substantial retail centers, the Walmarts and malls, that could be a fair number for Allegany County percentage-wise.”
Also during the meeting, the Budget Committee asked department heads from the Office for the Aging, the Health Department, Public Works and the Sheriff’s Office about current vacancies and whether the positions could be left unfilled.
The committee also targeted some areas for cost savings, such as premium pay in the Sheriff’s Office budget.
“There’s a lot of people on this board that don’t want to see a levy increase this year. There are others that would be comfortable with a small (increase), but we all share the goal of limiting tax levy as much as possible,” said Legislator Brooke Harris (R-Alfred).
“I understand you guys have minimum staffing levels you have to adhere to and so forth, but if we’re going to be minimally staffing an empty jail (due to bail reform), I wonder if there are further ways we could decrease premium pay in 2020.”
Sheriff Rick Whitney said he would investigate the matter with his staff.