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Re-Examine Use Of Lake Funding Before Considering Tax District

Online Post-Journal reader Robert MacCallum makes two good points regarding a possible taxing district around Chautauqua Lake.

First, one of the arguments for spending any county money on Chautauqua Lake is that the lake includes 26% of the county’s taxable property assessment. For years, that 26% statistic has been the driver for Chautauqua County’s bed tax spending for Chautauqua Lake as well as the creation of lake commissions and alliances as the lake’s condition deteriorated over the years. MacCallum rightly points out that the logic used over the years dictates discussion of a countywide taxing district for Chautauqua Lake. More on that thought in a minute.

The second point MacCallum makes, quite correctly, is that it is a bad idea to spend $15,000 for public outreach regarding the potential taxing district. The Chautauqua Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Agency is proposing hiring Highland Planning of Rochester for $15,000 to facilitate public outreach. The money would be taken out of 2% occupancy tax money.

It makes little sense for a county that is discussing a taxing district to pay for lake maintenance to spend $15,000 on public outreach rather than on the lake. The CLPRA could easily host a meeting or two in the areas where the taxing district could be located, set up an email box to accept written comments and send letters to property owners in the proposed district area. It’s not as if that information isn’t available. The county could also use social media to engage with property owners and set up a simple online survey, several of which are free to a point.

The $15,000 is a minor point. The point MacCallum makes about the countywide nature of a taxing district is not. Chautauqua County will spend $1,109,144 from its 3% occupancy tax in 2020 and spend another $739,430 from the additional 2% occupancy tax. That’s a total of $1,848,574. Not all of that money goes to projects. $550,000 goes to the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau. Another $80,000 goes to the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency for tourism and desgination promotion. Another $82,000 is used to pay for people to collect, enforce and administer the bed taxes. The county spends $102,813 to pay for a watershed coordinator, gives $300,000 to the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Alliance for watershed and in-lake maintenance.

We know about the importance of Chautauqua Lake’s property values to the county as a whole. One would think, though, that the same is likely true to a lesser extent of Findley Lake, Cassadaga Lake and Bear Lake. Those three lakes combined receive $9,500 in county assistance for maintenance of waterways, harvesting and shoreline cleanup. We’re willing to bet they’re just as much in need of investment as Chautauqua Lake.

The way we see it, MacCallum’s point about a countywide taxing district makes sense. It makes so much sense the county created such a tax more than a decade ago. That’s one reason we’re not sure the wisdom of creating a taxation district for Chautauqua Lake is the best idea. Before the county gets ahead of itself creating a new taxing district on properties that are already among the most highly taxed in the county, let’s look at the existing occupancy taxes being collected and discuss reprogramming some of that money into lake maintenance. If even more money is needed, perhaps occupancy taxes should be adjusted. If that isn’t possible, perhaps the lake maintenance budget for Chautauqua, Findley, Casasdaga and Bear lakes should be built into the county budget.

All of these options should be on the table before a new tax is created.

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