Immediate Release

Thursday, May 10, 2007 

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Picente Seeks Reduced Sales Tax Rate

            Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente, Jr., today announced that he will propose a reduction in Oneida County ’s overall sales tax level when the existing 1% sales tax expires at the end of November, 2007.  Picente said he will propose that the County continue the tax at the lower level of .75% as a proactive step to address the County’s fiscal future.

            “County government provides essential public safety, economic development, and human services.” Picente said. “These functions require a sustained fiscal planning approach and we owe it to the people of Oneida County to look at these issues in the context of a long-range plan, not a short-term fix. This is not an ‘election-year’ financial plan just to get us through 2007 and maybe even 2008. We cannot limp along on one-shot revenues and delaying tactics that put off the inevitable. We have to face up to our obligation to provide leadership that addresses Oneida County ’s problems, fiscal and otherwise. The ‘Day of Reckoning’ always comes – and when it does, Oneida County needs to be ready.”

            Picente said the .75% tax would bring in about $19 million per year and added that the revenue would be dedicated to County purposes in accordance with the original enactment by the State. He noted that because each 1% in property taxes equals about $580,000 in revenue to the County, the revenue from the .75% tax is approximately the same as a 32.5% property tax increase. Picente said Erie County also has a combined State and local sales tax rate of 8.75%, which is what Oneida County ’s combined rate would be if the new tax rate is approved by the State.  As soon as the State legislation is introduced, a home rule message will be sent to the Board of Legislators for approval.

            Picente said that a four-month review of County finances, including a review by a bi-partisan team which he created shortly after assuming office in January, concluded that continuing the sales tax was necessary because, in the coming years, costs could not be reduced on a scale that would eliminate the need for the revenue this sales tax produces.

            “I assumed the office of County Executive to provide the leadership we need to make the right decisions,” Picente said. “The right decision for Oneida County is to look at the needs of tomorrow and to strengthen County government so that we do not have to depend on quick fixes, reliance on state assistance or reduce the County to nothing more than an agency writing checks for mandated social service programs.”

            Picente noted that he is also urging the Oneida County Board of Legislators to adopt a fiscal plan that will shore up the County’s reserves. “We cannot continue to spend down our fiscal reserves. If we want to redevelop communities and industrial and business parks and take bold action to grow a stronger economy in Oneida County , we have to have a strong financial base,” he said. “I am asking for an increased commitment to fiscal stability so that we can provide long-term growth for the County without massive sales or property tax spikes.”

            The fiscal plan also sets aside $500,000 of the existing County reserves to support community and economic development projects. “We have to be aggressive in growing our economy,” Picente said. “If we want a better, brighter and bolder future for Oneida County , we need to make County government fiscally strong enough to survive, prosper and take on the kinds of projects that will be required as we move forward. If we really mean what we say when we talk about making Oneida County economically competitive with other areas of the State and nation, if we really want to retain the young people of our area, and if we want to achieve success instead of being a spectator watching other areas get things done and grow, we need to invest in our future.”

County Comptroller Joseph Timpano said that the 2006 fiscal year surplus was created when expenses came in about $9 million under budget and revenue came in about $3 million higher. Timpano said the changes were centered around the Department of Social Services, whose costs make up a major share of the county budget.  Overall, Timpano said, expenses were stable throughout the General Fund, with salaries increasing about 2% on average from 2005 to 2006.  “The County remains in a solid fiscal position, but as we look to the future, the important thing for our credit rating is develop sustainable revenue streams to support essential services and to continue to keep our expenses stable,” Timpano said.

Picente would not rule out property tax increases in the future, but said it is too early to discuss specifics. “As a candidate for this office in the fall elections, I could put together a dream budget that would please everyone in the short term, but I will not indulge in that kind of deception. I believe the people of Oneida County deserve an honest discussion about what government needs and an honest effort to make government work for the people. I believe we need to transform this discussion from how little we can do into how much we can accomplish.”

            Picente noted that Medicaid is among the major costs increasing in the 2008 budget. “The Medicaid cap approved by the state limits the size of counties’ increases, but it does not end them,” Picente said. “We’re paying more than $45 million a year in Medicaid. We’re still seeing increases in state mandates. The burden on County governments has abated from the crisis years, but it is still considerable and still a major fiscal concern.”

Picente also noted that one major factor impacting the county’s fiscal position was about $5 million in state back-billing for the costs related to juvenile detention dating back several years. “We asked the governor to intervene and we received no support whatsoever,” Picente said. “The state tries to call it a retroactive payment, but it is very simply a back-door tax that is one more burden placed upon the people of Oneida County by a state government that has a long history of this type of bureaucratic taxation that takes away with one hand what the other hand gives.”

Picente said Gov. Spitzer’s intervention is also needed to collect sales taxes that are owed on sales of products to non-Indians and to resolve the land-in-trust issue by developing a fair, final solution.  “Collecting all of the sales tax we should be collecting would have major implications on our future,” Picente said. “Resolving the land and tax issues will have a major positive impact on our financial position. I urge the Governor to get involved and stay involved until we work together as a team to resolve these issues for the long-term future.”