Few counties opt to cap gas sales tax

From staff and wire reports
Cortland County is among a majority of counties statewide that are opting not to limit their local gasoline tax under a state law aimed at cutting the price at the pump.
Facing a Friday deadline, just 13 of the state’s 62 counties had passed local gas tax measures by Wednesday, according to the New York State Association of Counties.
Gov. George Pataki last month signed a bill that capped the state sales tax on gasoline at 8 cents per gallon, the rate paid when gas costs $2 a gallon.
The law, which took effect June 1, is saving consumers about 4 cents a gallon when retail prices top $3.
Gas prices in New York averaged $3.05 a gallon for the week ending Monday. The national average was $2.91 a gallon, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.
Under the state law, counties were given the option of capping their taxes as well. Local governments typically charge 12 to 15 cents per gallon at current prices. They have until Friday to do so for the cap to be effective July 1, the height of vacation driving.
State lawmakers estimated the law would save consumers up to $450 million a year, if all counties capped their local sales taxes.
Mark LaVigne, a spokesman for the New York State Association of Counties, said 26 counties have told NYSAC they will not enact the cap.
Cortland County Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown said the county’s decision not to opt into the gas cap stemmed from a concern over lost revenue.
“We had a city, town and village meeting May 25 and the general consensus from the supervisors was that the municipalities could not afford to lose the revenue,” Brown said.
Brown said she sent a memo to members of the Legislature asking for their thoughts, and that 18 of 19 legislators supported rejecting the tax cap.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said that the county’s decision not to accept the cap should have been put to a vote in a public meeting.
According to Brown, a meeting wasn’t called because there was minimal interest in accepting the tax cap.
“I wasn’t going to call a special meeting at a cost to the taxpayers when the majority of the legislators were not going to vote in favor of it,” she said.
Broome County, which also rejected the tax cap, held a special meeting, defeating the proposal 16-1.
Brown said that the primary concern of the legislators was that property taxes would be raised to supplement the lost revenue. Like the state, the county levies a 4 percent tax on gasoline.
“Property taxes were the biggest reason people did not want it capped,” Brown said.
In May, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would not follow the state’s lead.
State and local governments have been collecting millions of dollars more in gasoline taxes since last summer when prices spiked after Hurricane Katrina damaged refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Still, local officials are worried they’ll face fiscal difficulties if they cut the tax while facing higher fuel and asphalt costs.
“In many cases county budget officials forecast the increased sales taxes into their budgets,” said Stephen Acquario, executive director of NYSAC. “We’re in the middle of a budget year and there are many increased financial difficulties facing counties.”
On Tuesday, Broome County rejected the cap, saying it would sap $2.3 million in annual revenue. Budget Director Nathaalie Maxwell said the county would have to raise property taxes 4.6 percent to make up for the loss.
“We know that our costs for gasoline are going to rise and our costs are very fuel intensive,” Maxwell said. “It would hamper our future earning potential.”
She also said the county is losing $3.6 million annually after agreeing to go along with a state law enacted this year that eliminated the sales tax on clothing costing less than $110.
Steuben County lawmakers also decided to forego the cap, saying it would cost the county $1.2 million annually as long a prices stayed over $2 a gallon.
“We would hope that as many counties as possible act to join us,” said Mark Hansen, a spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. “This is considered a windfall tax revenue for state and local governments that we wanted to give back to the taxpayers so we would hope that more counties will decide to do likewise before the deadline.”
Acquario noted that counties could later enact caps that would take effect in the next financial quarter, beginning Oct. 1.
Lawmakers in Bruno’s home county of Rensselaer on Tuesday voted to table a measure to cap the tax, saying they wanted more time to study the issue.
Staff reporter Corey Preston contributed to this article.






Garden honors war wounded


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Valor O’Shea, right, senior vice commander of the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 153 on Owego Street, helped dedicate the Musto Memorial Garden, in the background, outside the veteran’s building Wednesday afternoon. Sitting with O’Shea is Paul Harrington.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — At a ceremony midday Wednesday, Disabled American Veterans Chapter 153 dedicated a memorial garden to all disabled American veterans at its headquarters at Owego and Scammell streets.
The Musto Memorial Garden was named after the late William J. Musto, a resident of Tompkins County. Musto was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who had received a Purple Heart during World War II in the Pacific. The Musto Family Trust was established in his name.
Paul Harrington, treasurer for the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans, said the Tompkins County chapter had its charter revoked due to inactivity.
“The idea for this developed probably five years ago. We actually had the garden built last year, but we didn’t get around to dedicating it until now,” Harrington said. “It was more or less my design and Wallace Landscaping did the landscaping, and the rest was done by members of the chapter.”
The garden is fronted by two marble benches that face Owego Street, and is partially enclosed by a masonry wall. A shallow walkway runs between the landscaping on either side, and terminates at a granite marker that reads, “Musto Memorial Garden dedicated to all disabled American veterans past, present and future.”
Flanking the marker, two plaques with 20 names each list Cortland County residents who were disabled in battle or listed as missing in action. A flagpole is also part of the monument, and flew only the American flag Wednesday in honor of Flag Day. DAV Senior Vice Commander Valor O’Shea said that the post will add a POW-MIA flag soon.




City schools tap former T'burg man as new curriculum director

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Cortland School District Board of Education this morning approved hiring former Trumansburg resident Christopher Mount as the district’s new director of curriculum and instruction.
Mount is an elementary principal at Aloha Elementary School in Lakewood, Calif.
Aloha is one of 19 elementary schools in the ABC (Artesia, Bloomfield and Carmenita) Unified School District in Cerritos, Calif., in Los Angeles County. The entire school district has nearly 22,000 students in 30 schools.
Aloha Elementary, with a population of about 475 students in kindergarten through grade six is one of 19 elementary schools in the district.
The approval came during a short meeting this morning. All six board members present approved the selection. Board member Lisa Hoeschele was absent. Board President Tom Brown said the board was not involved in the selection process.
Mount starts July 10 and will be paid $98,500 a year, according to interim superintendent of schools Fred Thompsen. He replaces Paul Goodwin who retires the end of June.