Sep 16, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
The Camillus town board Tuesday night was on the defense as residents questioned their decision to request a portion of the town’s cut of county sales tax revenue in cash for the first time in 10 years.
Calling the move “a shell game” played with taxpayer’s money, former town Supervisor Don Fittipaldi and several other town residents questioned the board’s motives when it submitted a request on Sept. 1 to recieve $800,000 of the nearly $5.1 million in sales tax revenue as cash, money that was previously credited the town as county property tax reduction.
Sales tax revenue acquired by the county each year is distributed throughout to municipalities and school districts. After a negotiated sum is allocated to the city of Syracuse, the remaining revenue is divided among the 19 towns in the county according to their population. Each town opts to receive the money in cash or as a tax credit, or a combination.
Camillus was set to receive approximately $5.1 million said William Davern, Camillus third ward councilor. For the last 10 years, that revenue has been credited the town taxpayers in the form of a reduction on county property taxes, lowering the percentage per $1,000 Camillus taxpayers hand over to the county.
As a result, said Davern, the town of Camillus appeared to have a higher property tax than neighboring towns, particularly the town of Geddes, which receives it’s entire portion of sales tax revenue in cash.
“I can’t tell you how many people I run into that say, ‘I’m buying property here, or I’m buying property there, because I looked at the tax rate and it’s lower than Camillus,'” said Davern. But a comparison between the county taxes paid be residents of different towns would show more balance, he added.
“No one is going to pay more, no one is going to pay less,” said Davern. “It’s just going to be more reflective of our town tax.”
The other side of the coin
Fourth ward councilor James Salanger called the switch from credit to cash “more a game of smoke and mirrors,” and said he had been opposed to the idea.
“It gives the false impression that the town has lowered taxes,” Salanger said. Salanger voted for the switch, he said, because if he had voted against it he would not be able to make the parliamentary move to rescind it in the future.
His concerns were echoed by Fittipaldi, who was present at the board meeting to present a letter to the board and voice his opposition to the cash.
“To the taxpayer, it’s a cost neutral position,” Fittipaldi said of the switch, calling the move a “childish” attempt to appear to have lowered town taxes.
Karen Henry, comptroller for the town of Camillus, said she did not propose the switch to the town board, and though she knew it had been discussed in the past she was not aware of their decision until the board meeting.
Henry pointed out that while the town tax rate is lowered by the move and the county tax rate raised to balance the difference, taxpayers may end up paying more if the county’s sales tax revenue does not meet expectations and county tax rate rises more than expected — on the other hand, they may pay less.
If the town receives the $800,000 in cash, and the county receives $800,000 more in sales tax revenue than expected, the county tax rate will not need to increase. If the county earns less, the tax rate will need to increase more to make up the difference.
In neighboring Geddes, the only town in the county to receive all sales tax revenue in cash, comptroller Greg Maxwell said elected officials in Geddes chose cash over credit because they feel “they are in a position to better know what to do with sales tax money than the county.”
Geddes received cash before Maxwell joined the staff in 1999, and he said in 2009 the town would continue to receive cash.