County college charge gets mixed reaction
SCHUYLER COUNTY—The town boards do not all agree with the county’s decision to charge the towns for community college costs.
The county is making the towns pay a total of $400,000, which is part of the cost for 480 Schuyler County residents to attend community college anywhere in the state. The Schuyler County Legislature approved the charge back at the November budget hearing.
The breakdown by the number of students from each town is:
• Dix, 140 students, $116,667.
• Hector, 75 students, $62,500.
• Montour, 74 students, $61,667.
• Catharine, 55 students, $45,833.
• Reading, 46 students, $38,333.
• Orange, 40 students, $33,333.
• Cayuta, 25 students, $20,833.
• Tyrone, 25 students, $20,833.
The county initially proposed another alternative to cover the $400,000 budget gap, which would have reduced the sales tax payments to all towns from 24 percent to 20 percent instead. However, to implement the sales tax reduction in 2013, all towns had to waive a six-month notice. The legislature previously explained not all the towns agreed and so the county voted on the charge back.
One of the main concerns is the fairness of splitting the $400,000 across the towns. The town of Dix gets the largest part of the total because the majority of the community college students from Schuyler are from Dix.
Dix Supervisor Harold Russell said the town made a majority of cuts to the highway and fire department budgets to cover the charge. He added the town changed the employee health insurance to include a higher deductible. Russell explained the end result is a 3.8 percent tax rate increase in 2013.
“It’s unacceptable to me,” said Russell.
He explained the sales tax reduction would have impacted the town less. Another of Russell’s concerns was the timing of the announcement. He said the town heard about the charge back right before they started their own budget preparations.
“Some people like myself felt the sales tax distribution is more equitable,” said Catharine Supervisor John VanSoest. He added the sales tax payments from the county are based on the relative value of the assessments. VanSoest said the sales tax is not distributed to where it was collected in the county.
He explained Catharine will use money from reserves to cover the town’s charge back. VanSoest said each year the town puts some money away to cover any equipment repairs that might be needed. He said Catharine couldn’t do that this year.
Montour Supervisor Dave Scott said they are the second smallest town, but have the third largest charge back. He explained the town will forgo repairs to a bathroom at Havana Glen Park to pay part of the college cost.
“(The charge back) hurts the smaller towns,” said Scott. “Our biggest question to the council of governments is what happens in a year or two when there are more problems?” He said his concern is the county will cut more sales tax payments to the towns and charge the towns with the full community college cost.
However, some towns are in favor of the charge backs. Hector Supervisor Ben Dickens called it “the fairest, the most equitable.” He explained it splits the costs between the towns based on the actual number of students. Dickens said the sales tax reduction is a “blanket charge.”
He explained the reduction in sales tax would affect Hector “to the tune of $125,000.” He said three towns (Reading, Tyrone, and Hector) would pay “more than their fair share.” Dickens added the county is looking to implement the sales tax cut by Jan. 1, 2014.