County Should Move Slowly, If At All, On Lake Taxation District

The scramble the last two years to pay for permitted herbicide applications as well as the scramble to pay for a cleanup of Burtis Bay last fall shows that there is a need for dedicated funding to maintain Chautauqua Lake.

Roughly $2 million will be spent on lake maintenance this year, including funding from the county’s bed tax and money donated from foundations, private citizens and businesses. County officials are right that they can’t count on some of that money in the future.

County Executive George Borrello and Don McCord, county director of planning and community development, told members of the Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency, a committee tasked with the possible formation of a taxing district for Chautauqua Lake, that now is the time to start thinking about a taxing district to help raise funding for lake maintenance. McCord estimated that $1,576,277 could be raised by creating two levels of fees, one for lakefront property owners and another for those owning property near the shore.

Given that property owners around Chautauqua Lake pay some of the highest property taxes in Chautauqua County, county officials should proceed with caution. It would be smart to start with how much money is actually needed by figuring out what type of maintenance is needed every year. It’s foolish to start the process by discussing how much the county can raise. What is actually needed? Is a taxing district needed to raise that amount?

It would, likewise, be smart to start now, publicly, reaching out to lakefront property owners. While McCord said he has had positive responses to one funding scenario, we wonder if those responses will change when people see dollar figures attached to them. The last thing county officials need are a slew of for sale signs popping up on some of the county’s most expensive homes because the owners didn’t want to add to their already hefty tax bills. We have also heard complaints about lack of representation on the CLPRA — should more property owners be incorporated before decisions are made?

County officials should move slowly and deliberately with the idea of a lake taxing district. It is important not to lose momentum on the work that has been done this year, but it is equally important not to botch this process because county officials hurried through it.

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