Some issues get lots of attention, and some issues are ignored. Sometimes the reasons issues get attention, or inattention, are obvious and easy to understand. Sometimes the reasons for the attention, or inattention, are hard to figure out. I want to focus on some issues that I think are important, but that, for whatever reasons, don’t get much attention in the media.
SALES TAXES. Sales tax income is an important source of operating revenue for most counties, including Allegany County. Allegany County doesn’t have a major shopping hub, so we don’t collect nearly as much sales tax as some other counties. In 2015 we collected about $19.46 million. By contrast Erie County collected about $708 million. For the 1st quarter of 2016 our sales tax revenue went down by $120,000, or 2.58%. This is cause for concern. Lower fuel prices probably account for part of that drop. However, savings on fuel should show up in other sectors. Just for contrast I would note that Erie County (Buffalo area) saw an $820,000 decrease. However, their quarterly income was about $176.4 million. Their sales tax income is 38 times greater than ours. Erie County’s population is about 19 times greater, which means it collects twice as much sales tax per person than Allegany County. This partially explains why our real property taxes are so high.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. The County Legislature has identified economic development as one of our most important issues. A task force consisting of business, educational, and political leaders has been meeting to develop a “Mission Statement,” development strategies and measurable objectives for economic development. In the near future the County Legislature will hopefully adopt those recommendations as official county policy. We restructured the County Economic Development Office, and entered into a contract with Alfred State College for economic development services. I am optimistic that the next five years will produce significant economic growth.
SOLID WASTE DISPOSAL. Allegany County has operated the County Landfill for more than 30 years. For much of that time the Landfill and transfer station system was heavily subsidized by county taxpayers. The Landfill is now near its capacity, which means that an alternative is needed. We recently approved a resolution accepting tipping fee proposals from three different landfills. The current plan is to continue operating the existing transfer stations, but to transport the solid waste from those transfer stations to one of those three landfill sites. There will undoubtedly be changes, and possibly increased fees for waste disposal. However, those costs will be much less than the cost of constructing a new County landfill. The Legislature will need to re-visit this subject once costs for the new arrangements have been determined.
DERELICT BUILDING ISSUES. Almost every community in the County has one or more deteriorated buildings. These buildings are a safety hazard, as well as being ugly and unsightly. Dealing with these buildings presents significant legal issues, and can be enormously expensive to demolish and remove. When owners fail (refuse) to pay the real property taxes, those buildings can end up being owned by the County. The County then faces liability issues, as well as the challenge of paying for demolition and disposal. If the demolition debris contains asbestos the costs can be significant. Should this be a local community issue, a county issue, or a state issue? Should the State grant waivers from some of its regulatory programs when a local community tries to address these issues? Are there creative alternatives to address this problem? The Legislature is establishing a “Land Bank” that will hopefully receive some state funding. This Land Bank could help us address these issues. However, this problem won’t be resolved overnight.
Many of the challenges facing the County are inter-related. Economic development will provide good-paying jobs. Those jobs will attract people to our county. High taxes make us less attractive to businesses and workers. Rundown buildings make a community less attractive. We need to be working on all of these issues at the same time. That’s what we are doing.