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County proposes more money for SCOPED

WATKINS GLEN—A plan to use sales tax revenue to increase the budget for the Schuyler County Partnership for Economic Development by nearly 33 percent got a cool reception from the Watkins Glen Village Board Monday.
The new plan would earmark 5 percent of the county’s sales tax revenue to fund the economic development agency and the county Planning Department. In 2010, that would total about $442,000.
SCOPED currently receives about $250,000 in funding from public and private sources, including the eight towns and four villages in Schuyler County.
The plan outlined Monday was developed by a task force of the Schuyler County Council of Governments. It would allocate about $332,000 to SCOPED and $110,000 to the county’s Planning Department.
County Administrator Tim O’Hearn, a task force member, said the proposal doesn’t require the approval of the county’s town’s and villages.
“If there’s widespread opposition, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “We want collaboration, but it’s not dependent on unanimous consent. The (county) legislature  has the ability to change the system at will.”
Watkins Glen Mayor Judy Phillips said the new funding scheme would cost the village about $13,000 a year, up from the $6,000 it currently contributes to support SCOPED.
The existing system charges municipalities based on assessed valuation.
“My concern is the significant increase,” Phillips said. “I’d like to see a reduction of the 5 percent.”
O’Hearn said the 5 percent is a suggestion from the task force and could be reduced.
The village and other municipalities would be affected by the new formula because it could reduce their share of the county’s sales tax revenue.
O’Hearn predicted that Watkins Glen would see a 20 percent increase in sales tax revenue from 2008 through 2010. Part of that will result from new property assessments that take effect in January.
“This could be a painless way to fund economic development,” he said.
Trustee Nick Kelly also questioned the necessity of the SCOPED budget increase.
“What little percentage of the sales tax we get, we need it,” he said.
O’Hearn said that without a change in the current funding mechanism, SCOPED will run a $50,000 deficit by 2012. He said SCOPED has brought $30 million in economic development to the county, including a new waterfront hotel, Franklin Street revitalization in Watkins Glen and development projects in Montour Falls.
Both sales tax revenue and room tax revenue are up in double digits so far this year because of the county’s investments in economic development, O’Hearn said.

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