Hogan unhappy over bridge repair fund cuts

Mary Perham

A last-minute sales tax glitch and outsized pension increases means Steuben County will exceed the state-imposed 2 percent property tax increase next year.

The county Legislature’s Finance Committee endorsed a tentative 2013 budget of $187 million, which carries a tax levy of $48 million and a proposed tax increase of 2.7 percent.

Steuben’s current budget of $186 million called for a tax levy of $46.7 million, and a 1.9 percent tax increase.

The Legislature recently approved a resolution giving them the authority to override the state tax cap – a measure used universally by local governments.

The tax cap overage is due to $8 million in pensions – a 16 percent spike from last year -- and a last-minute change in the sales tax formula, according to the committee, which met Wednesday.

County officials said the Governor’s office decided last September counties would have to absorb any sales tax revenues they typically set aside for towns.

As a result, Steuben must offset roughly $200,000 – an amount carved in half when the committee agreed to cut the $100,000 annually it has sent the cities of Hornell and Corning for bridge repair.

“Last year, we told (the cities) it would be the last year we gave them the money,” said Legislator Scott Van Etten, R-Corning Town. “We tell them that every year and then we give it to them. It’s got to stop.”

The cut in bridge funding dropped the proposed average county property tax by 0.2 percent, from an original 2.9 percent down to 2.7 percent.

But it also represents a 2.5 percent tax increase for Hornell property owners, according to Hornell City Mayor Shawn Hogan.

Hogan said the fund was set up years ago, when county legislators from the towns agreed to take over large bridges in the towns. The county Legislature offered to give $60,000 to Hornell and $40,000 to Corning for their bridge repairs, he said.

“(The bridge fund) is low hanging fruit,” Hogan said. “I know the cap, I live it as mayor… we have 14 bridges, and the money we get from the county pays off debt service we have repairing the bridges. Now if the agreement was not permanent, they should rescind the resolution to take care of town bridges and then we’re all on an even keel.”

Hogan said he appreciates the challenges the county faces in meeting the 2 percent tax cap but added Steuben has simply shifted costs onto the cities.

“They’re doing the same thing they accuse the state of doing to them,” Hogan said. “They’re shifting the cost down to us. But this is not an us versus them mentality. We need to find some common agreement, meet and find solutions.”

Corning City Manager Mark Ryckman was out of the area Wednesday, and city Mayor Rich Negri could not be reached for comment.

The proposed budget will now be presented to the county Legislature at 10 a.m. Nov. 15. A public hearing on the budget is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 26, after which the county board is expected to adopt the 2013 spending plan.