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Committee To Improve City Financial Status And City/County Relations Report

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Adam    19
26 minutes ago, Christina Sonsire said:

Our sense is that people who choose to stay in Chemung County do so for a purpose. They are not choosing to stay here for cost, but rather for convenience.

The Chemung County Chamber of Commerce has been in support of increase in room tax for years based on the rationale I set forth above, and the hotel owners also generally support it as long as we couple the measure with an imposition of a tax on Airbnbs.

To me it’s a no brainer. For the most part Chemung County residents don’t pay the tax, and - at least in my opinion - it’s unreasonable to think a small increase is going to encourage someone to stay in Corning or Watkins Glen, etc.

Christina, do you know if it has ever been thought of or discussed about possibility of rekindling rail services in elmira? City was known as a railhub in the 19th early 20th centuries, at this point in time it is sadly apparent Elmira is destined to be a pass-through city so why not work that angle? SOme sort of service between NYC and upstate/ADK areas with a stop over in the Queen City, stay over a night and take the day to explore the brew pub/vinyard/fingerlake attractions and they move on...i know there would be many moving parts but its a neat idea

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KReed    442

I do understand that this committee and its recommendations are only a starting point. The effort on the committee's part is appreciated…as are your (mostly single-handed) efforts for inclusion and public input.

Quote

With respect to the public, we released the report on the same day we announced it will be presented at a public forum within a week and are doing everything we can to solicit public input. I am not sure what level of collaboration is expected, but in my view we are trying our best to be inclusive. Inviting the entire community to participate in writing the report might sound good in theory, but it would take years to get anything done that way.

I am going to break this down a bit.

 

we released the report on the same day we announced it will be presented at a public forum within a week. The key word that jumps out at me is “present”. I am sure you all put much thought and work into this report and preparing for the upcoming presentation. But “presentation” implies communication in one direction – not a dialogue or invitation for input.

and [we] are doing everything we can to solicit public input.  I cannot speak to how accessible Elmira’s elected officials are, but your fellow county legislators have, historically, been disturbingly averse to gathering or responding to public input for anything. You are a rare exception among your colleagues.

Inviting the entire community to participate in writing the report might sound good in theory. When Johnny mentioned (and I supported) including “a private citizen with private sector managerial experience”, I hardly interpreted that as ‘the entire community’

it would take years to get anything done that way. Adding citizen representation would take years….as opposed to how quickly our elected officials get things done by themselves?   Not to be flippant, but this has been deliberated over and analyzed by elected officials for decades without any measurable improvement. (This, of course, is certainly no fault of yours in your first term –  I’m sure you, yourself, must have recognized the lack of accomplishment and it may have been a factor in your decision to run).

 

The fact is…it is ultimately up to the City, the Legislature and the County Executive on which (if any) recommendations to pursue. I do truly appreciate you keeping the public informed on this and other issues. But from past experiences, some of us still have little confidence that ideas and opinions from constituents’ will have much influence on the final plan.

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KReed - Imagine you ran for office this summer and got elected, then were engaged in this dialogue. Last summer I was “the public” and now I am “the government”. The line is thin and the delineation far, far over-stated.

The reality is that we are all on the same side. You wouldn’t care enough to engage in this discussion if you didn’t care about our community, and I certainly would not be doing this work if I didn’t want it to result in something good.

It would be great if we could all move past an us v. them mindset.  You and others are fully invested and are trying your best to make things better, as are the people recently elected to serve in local government.

We have a lot of people engaged in community affairs for the first time in as long as I can remember. I hope we can harness this energy and do something g very good with it.

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KReed    442
Posted (edited)

Off the topic of community engagement, there is another question I have about sales tax distribution. 

How do online sales get allocated? I know that counties are excluded from online DMV transactions and Albany keeps it. Is sales tax similar? Does the entire 8% I pay on Amazon stay in Albany or does Chemung County get all or part of it? And if all or part of the 4% goes to the county, how is that distributed?

Edited by KReed

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10 hours ago, KReed said:

How do online sales get allocated? I know that counties are excluded from online DMV transactions and Albany keeps it. Is sales tax similar? Does the entire 8% I pay on Amazon stay in Albany or does Chemung County get all or part of it? And if all or part of the 4% goes to the county, how is that distributed?

That is a great question - and definitely not an easy one to answer.

My understanding is that originally the tax generated from online sales was to be returned to the county where the sale originated in order to start putting brick-and-mortar sellers back on equal footing with online retailers.

However, after municipal leaders raised a fuss (as they should have!) over Cuomo’s threats to cut AIM funding, a deal was struck whereby a substantial portion of online sales tax revenue is redirected to the towns and villages entitled to AIM monies. In other words, Albany effectively shifted the burden to provide AIM funding from the state to counties via a grab of online sales tax money.

However, this all just happened over the past few months and it’s unclear - at least to me - how it is all going to shake out.

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KReed    442
Posted (edited)

Thank you.

It sounds like this shift that Albany introduced (whereby a substantial portion of online sales tax revenue is redirected to the towns and villages entitled to AIM monies) occurred while the committee was working on this report. 

Am I understanding that correctly?

If that is the case, does that mean that the sales tax amounts used for the 2018 included online sales tax revenue…and projections in the various scenarios are calculated from that?

If so, all the caluculations and math will need to be revisited by the next committee that convenes to settle on which sales tax plan to pursue.

Edited by KReed

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KReed - No. The online sales tax measure was just passed by the NY Legislature and signed into law by Cuomo this spring, so the pre-2019 collections set forth in our report do not include any revenue from online purchases.

The tradeoff for AIM funding will likely either be a wash for us as the money from online purchases that should go to counties will instead stay in Albany, or a small gain if online sales tax revenue exceeds what needs to be paid in AIM funding. The rub is that Albany traditionally provided AIM funding, meaning all of the monies from online purchases would have stayed here had the trade-off not occurred.

In other words, online not sales tax collection does not negatively affect or calculations at all, and possibly lends them to being conservative projections.

As I said above, I am still a little fuzzy about the AIM tradeoff, yet certain that none of it has any measurable impact on our report.

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Johnny Go    167
Posted (edited)

Increases in room tax, or even sales tax for that matter, really does little to impact purchase decisions.  Most consumers are just not savvy enough in their financial acumen to take these into consideration.  Or possibly, that extra buck or two does not justify staying somewhere less convenient. However, It does takes money out of the pockets of those pays these taxes and prevents them from being able to spend that money on what they consider worthwhile and gives the spending decision to government (see below).  Since the room tax tends to come from people who don't live here, I guess it is a no brainer.  In fact, its such a no brainer why limit it to just a 1% or 2% increase?  Shoot for the stars!  ;)

The thing about the room tax is that it can be spent only on services to enhance the general tourism economy.  If indeed there is an increase in tax revenue, and the Chamber of Commerce agrees to give that to Woodlawn Cemetery then that would relieve one financial burden on the city.  To be honest, I fail to see how the cemetery is a tourist attraction that would help provide a return on public funds given to maintain it.  It's a f'n cemetery, is there any data on how many people even consider it when deciding to stay in Chemung county?

Note, the Chamber of Commerce, which manages the room tax, keeps about 23%, while the Clemens Center and the Arena claim 29% and 15% respectively.  Two thirds of the revenue goes to just three organizations!

I'm surprised there are no other recommendations concerning the allocation of this revenue stream.  What else does the city spend money on that could be subsidized by these funds?

 

Edited by Johnny Go
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There was a lot of talk about changing the way room tax was allocated this spring. The Legislature decided to use the same formula for 2019 because most of the organizations had based their operating budgets on it, but we made it clear things may change going forward. Personally I favor a micro-grant system whereby organizations apply for money as needed rather than relying on it for operating costs.

Unfortunately the Arena is one expenditure that is unlikely to change. The payments each year actually go to Chemung Canal to pay off a loan. I don’t particularly like the arrangement, but I also don’t like the idea of harming a lender that does so much good for the community. The Arena’s problems are not the bank’s fault, IMO.

I think Woodlawn makes a lot of sense. Ernie Davis, Mark Twain and Hal Roach almighty with the confederate graves bring people to the area, and it’s a way to lift a burden from Elmira. However, as with everything else these are just recommendations open for debate.

 

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Chris    951
1 hour ago, Christina Sonsire said:

 Personally I favor a micro-grant system whereby organizations apply for money as needed rather than relying on it for operating costs.

Amen!

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Johnny Go    167

Well, if Chemung Canal wrote a loan as a private bank, then are collecting interest on the loan, thus they should bear the risk.  It shouldn't be up to the taxpayers to cover bad business decisions by private entities.  Exactly how much life is left on this loan?  But, I get what you're saying since they were probably guaranteed tax payer protection for when the Arena failed.

If we are stuck paying this tax, maybe we should consider getting something in return from the Arena.  How about them leasing the Arena to local non-profits at a low cost rate?  

For an example, the local roller derby team would love to use the Arena.  But the Arena wants thousands of dollars rental cost per bout,  plus a significant percentage of the gate.  This from a team that generates maybe a thousand bucks at the gate currently.  They are in a small venue on the southside with no chance to grow their fan base.  It would be nice to see them given the opportunity to grow if possible.  I'm sure there are other organizations with similar situations.  If we can subsidize the hockey team, how about spreading a bit of that around to other organizations?  That could help bring more foot traffic downtown and provide more opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

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Chris    951
4 minutes ago, Johnny Go said:

If we are stuck paying this tax, maybe we should consider getting something in return from the Arena.  How about them leasing the Arena to local non-profits at a low cost rate?  

That's a really good idea Johnny. The taxpayers are at least in some way getting something in return for the burden thrust upon them and there's more people downtown, especially when there's no hockey. 

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The Arena is a complex matter worthy of its own thread. The general answer is that right now the IDA, the entity that owns the Arena, is obligated to comply with the terms of a lease signed on July, 2018. Under the lease a company called CAN-USA, owned by Robbie Nichols, is permitted to use the premises for up to three on-year terms. The first year just ended, and Nichols has indicated an intent to lease it for 2019-2020. A copy of the lease and a bunch of other background information can be found in a blog post I did in June - https://chemungcountymatters.com/2019/06/13/first-arena-an-update/

Those are great ideas regarding nonprofits, etc. However, it appears they will have to wait to be considered until either the lease expires in July, 2021 or Nichols decides he no longer wishes to lease the Arena. 

The bank loan is a separate issue. 

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Chris    951
1 hour ago, Christina Sonsire said:

The Arena is a complex matter worthy of its own thread.

We can make that happen if people want to dissect it. 

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Johnny Go    167

How, pray tell, is the bank loan a separate issue? 

The whole idea that a private for profit organization continues to suck the life blood of this community, and our political leaders support this, is nothing short of scandalous.

I would love to see this discussed in it's own thread.  Although, at the end of the day we all know nothing will be done.  Trying to discuss this with our political leaders is like trying to tell an addicted gambler not to borrow/steal more money to stay in a crooked game when their argument is they can't afford to quit because they have lost too much money already.

 

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I am a little unclear on the specific details right now (weekend summer brain) and don’t have time to research them at the moment, but generally speaking the loan was made by Chemung Canal with a repayment schedule of roughly $103k/year over 25 years so long as the Arena is being used. I addressed this in a blog post last winter (I believe - it might have been last fall.) To date the loan has been repaid through an allocation of room tax money that is filtered through the Chamber of Commerce. This appears to be a legal arrangement; whether or not it is advisable and or appropriate is another matter. 

As I said above, this is a tough issue as defaulting on the loan or otherwise failing to pay it hurts a major community contributor.

To be clear, I was elected to the Legislature and appointed to the IDA board this January. The CAN-USA lease and bank loan were both undertaken prior to that. 

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Chris    951

Apparently there's more going than than I heard about today.

Christina has a new blog post, and since I'm on my phone and its got a lot of embedded material, I'm just gonna post the link here: https://chemungcountymatters.com/2019/08/07/more-from-the-city-county-committee-including-its-termination-by-county-executive-moss/?fbclid=IwAR0xc5o2PRSXOvtRkYMsiRt_hvpLuZ_YwymkxfbZ1vIZ31MPeq3kikMkYEc

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KReed    442

As much as we'd like to ease the City's struggles, Moss is not wrong that the County has its own struggles as well. 

image.png.b8bc8e40776ae91b3545481fe6543ce3.png

Of course, collective bargaining agreements are their own matter, but the Legislative Compensation committee could take this into consideration when they are deliberating over whether their $16k each for 15 Legislators ($240,000) along with health insurance (for which I have not seen a dollar amount) is a burdon the county can't afford.

The city-county committee being terminated doesn't stop the compensation committee from addressing this issue. 

The people paying for their compensation and benefits are struggling. The legislators' pay is simply not reasonable income in in comparision to the median income of Chemung County's populace. I understand they are working hard on their various committees to discuss potential solutions..... but the taxpayers are working hard too (many at full time jobs that barely pay more than their part time Legislators (with lesser health insurance packages). 

image.png.64f5b7e5a004f4bd204d29f1c8bed831.png

 

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Johnny Go    167
Posted (edited)

Why would Moss feel the need to discontinue the committee?  It seems the committee has completed its work and should automatically be discontinued when the final report is submitted.

How does one go about finding resolutions made by the county legislature?  The only thing I could find on the county web page is a very brief list of local laws, and only summaries at that.  Interestingly enough, the last two laws listed are these:

Quote

2018 LOCAL LAW #1 RESOLUTION NO. 17-629 Local Law authorizing increase in salary of elected officials and officials appointed for a fixed term in the County of Chemung

2019 LOCAL LAW #1 RESOLUTION NO. 19-191 Local Law authorizing increase in salary of elected officials and officials appointed for a fixed term in the County of Chemung

See https://www.chemungcountyny.gov/DocumentCenter/document_center/County Legislature/LOCAL LAWs 1997-201_.pdf

 

I'm specifically interested in the full text contained in the resolution which created this committee, Resolution 19-148. 

Edited by Johnny Go

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Johnny Go    167
Posted (edited)

Never mind, I found it in the legislative meeting notes from February 11, 2019.  (warning, this pdf is fairly large)

Quote

 

RESOLUTION NO. 19-148

Resolution accepting designation of County Executive for formation of temporary committee to study cost saving measures and ideas that could be implemented between the County of Chemung and the City of Elmira By: Chalk Seconded by: Sonsire

WHEREAS, the County Executive, pursuant to the authority granted to him under Section 302, subdivision e of the Chemung County Charter has appointed a special temporary advisory committee to study cost saving measures and ideas that could be implemented between the County of Chemung and the City of Elmira (the “Committee”); and

WHEREAS, the County Executive has appointed the Vice Chairman of the Legislature, John Burin, to serve as a Co-Chair of the Committee with the authority to select and appoint four members (including members of the public) to serve on the Committee; and

WHEREAS, the County Executive has appointed City of Elmira First District Councilman James Waters to serve as a CoChair of the Committee with the authority to select and appoint four members (including members of the public) to serve on the Committee; and

WHEREAS, the County Executive has directed the Co-Chairmen of the Committee to report to him on a monthly basis the proceedings of the Committee; and WHEREAS, the County Executive has directed the members of the Committee shall serve without compensation and any necessary expenses will be provided to the County Executive for his approval prior to the expenditure of any funds; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the written appointment of the County Executive of John Burin and James Waters to serve as Co-Chairs with authority to each appoint four additional committee members to create a special temporary advisory committee to study cost saving measures and ideas that could be implemented between the county of Chemung and the City of Elmira through December 31, 2019 be and the same is hereby received and placed on file; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the members of the Committee may contain members of the public, and shall serve without compensation; and be it further RESOLVED, that there shall be no expenditure of County funds without the express prior consent by the County Executive in accordance with his authorities under the Purchasing Policy, and otherwise subject to the approval of the Legislature; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the Committee shall provide monthly progress reports addressed to the County Executive, and shall provide copies thereof the Chairman of the Legislature; and, be it further

RESOLVED, that the County Executive retains authority to discontinue the Committee at his discretion (with notice thereof communicated to the Legislature), to include authority to determine the need thereof beyond the end of 2019.

Ayes: Pastrick, Sweet, Brennan, Margeson, Hyland, Sonsire, Woodard, Burin, Chalk, Briggs, McCarthy, Drake, Smith, Strange, Manchester(Chairman) (15); Opposed: None;

CARRIED.

 

Now I'm not sure what Sonsire felt the need to rant about on her blog.  Moss requested the committee, it was approved by the legislature including giving Moss "authority to discontinue the committee at his discretion", seconded and approved by Sonsire.  Sonsire does not state why this bothers her, nor why she feels the committee needs to continue beyond the study phase authorized in the resolution.  Nowhere in the resolution, nor in the standard practice of business, is it ever implied or stated a study commission would be the same group to negotiate and help implement the recommendations.

(As a side note the resolution does specifically state the committee should consist of members of the public, which it did not.  Former public officials are for all practical purposes still public officials.)

Note she does use in her blog several times he word "terminate", not the less inflammatory term "discontinue" used in the resolution and in Moss' notification.  The committee's work is done, why is this apparently such a shock?

She does spend a lot of space and words which appear to me to be strictly for the purpose of attacking Moss' credibility, with little positive support of the committee recommendations.  For example:

"It should be noted that County Executive Moss had a drastically different outlook on the issue of sales tax and the way it is distributed during last year’s campaign than the one his displayed in today’s press release"

and

"The fact that Moss terminated the Committee does not mean the work needs to stop."

I fail to see how his campaign statements she presented were "drastically" different.  Nor do I find where he is outright rejecting (or even insinuating) rejection of the recommendations in his recent letters, which is what Sonsire is implying in her blog.  Nor do I find anywhere proof that he plans to stop this work going forward.  Quite to the contrary, he specifically states the work is just starting.

She closes with this bit of drama, "Please don’t lose hope in what can happen. Way too much is at stake to let that happen."

Excuse me for being  ignorant and naive, but WTF is going on?  If this is the attitude of the committee and those who say they want to make improvements, then this effort is already doomed.

Color me shocked.

Edited by Johnny Go
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Hal    218
Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Johnny Go said:

RESOLVED, that the members of the Committee may contain members of the public,

The key word being may contain ... the Co Chairs had the Authority  to appoint members of the public but chose not to ! That whole may vs shall thing gets in the way every time . I had posed the question a while back as to why there were so many Honorable titles on the committee and none with the title Citizen . This resolution tells me why I did not receive a reply . 

Edited by Hal
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KarenK    79
Posted (edited)

I agree with KReed and Johnny Go.  Seems a spin going on to make Moss look like the bad guy.  Temporary is just that, and his calling out the County concerns seems in no way criticizing the committees report, just making it clear that the County has some serious issues as well. Just repeating the important facts that may have been buried or overlooked by us less than savvy readers.   The county overall is Moss's priority.  

Edited by KarenK

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