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NARROWSBURG, NY — At the town meeting on March 12, members of the Tusten Town Board expressed disappointment toward members of the Sullivan County Legislature who oppose sharing sales tax with the 15 towns in Sullivan County.
Council member Jane Luchsinger said, “It just seems such a negative message, because there is such a huge increase in tourism, a huge increase in sales tax... it’s a negative message.”
Council member Tony Ritter shared details of his discussion with county legislative chair Luis Alvarez. Alvarez argued that the county is building a jail, but Ritter said other counties build jails and share sales tax revenue with their towns. Alvarez said another reason the county could not share revenue is because the county is building a $4.5 million visitors center in Thompson. Ritter said, “We live in a digital age, why are they spending that kind of money on a visitors center?” He said Tusten deserves a “sliver” of the sales tax revenue because so many people are now traveling to the river valley.
Supervisor Carol Wingert noted that towns had not proposed sharing all of the sales tax, just the amount beyond $1 million above the level of sales tax collected in 2018.
At a meeting at the government center two days later, Alvarez noted that of the 46 out of 57 counties in the state that share taxes with the town, none also take care of the maintenance and replacement of the town’s bridges, which is the case in Sullivan County. The county is currently involved in replacing many bridges, which Alvarez said is running into many millions of dollars.
The county bonded $10 million for bridge replacements last fall. Before the county switched to a legislative form of government, it was governed by a board compromised of 15 town supervisors. The county is responsible for the bridges because the board of supervisors transferred the responsibility for most of the bridges from the towns to the county.
Legislator Scott Samuelson said the county also bears the entire cost of elections, which is not the way it’s done in other counties.
It may be that the state will force the county to share sales tax revenues with the towns. This year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed expanding tax on internet sales beyond companies with a physical presence in the state, to tax all internet sales of companies that sell more than $300,000 per year in the state and have more than 100 transactions in the state. Some of that tax would go to the counties, and the governor’s proposal would require that counties use some of the new revenue to make up for funding he has proposed cutting from a program called Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM).
During a presentation on the issue, county lawmakers expressed displeasure at the proposal because, in the past, the governor and state lawmakers have not dictated how the sales tax revenue should be spent. They view the scheme as yet another unfunded mandate Albany is pushing on the counties. It’s not clear whether the legislature will go along with the governor in the proposal.
The Senate and Assembly, meanwhile, restored $60 million in AIM funding in their proposed one-house budgets. As the budget deadline of April 1 quickly approaches, the legislature continues budget negotiations with Cuomo.