Seneca Falls: Local law would create “Great Financial Risk” says Warfel

“Local Law #7 = Higher Taxes”

Residents in Seneca Falls have been reading those signs for months now, since the inception of the proposed local law, which would prevent future landfill operations from entering the Town.

While opponents of the proposed local law have received plenty of criticism for not looking at the environmental and long-term impacts of a landfill operation in Seneca Falls – they have maintained the argument that residents cannot afford a tax increase like the one outlined by Senior Account Clerk Bev Warfel.

In an email obtained by FingerLakes1.com, which is available for the public at the Seneca Falls Town Offices on Bayard St., Warfel outlines her case – pointing out that ceasing landfill revenue would result in “an increase in tax of almost 300 percent.” She goes on to point out in the email that while “We may not care for the landfill, but putting the Town at such great financial risk is not the best course of action.”

The Town’s General (A) Fund, which sees approximately $2,300,000 from Seneca Meadows would be hit hard by the loss of revenue. According to Warfel, the Town had received $1,398,766.89 from Seneca Meadows in payments, which are yielded quarterly to the Town, as of the August 4th email.

She noted that the loss of landfill revenue would result in serious financial shortcomings, which would be felt this year. If the third and fourth quarter payments were not processed due to the legal action from a proposed local law, then the Town would be required to appropriate an additional $901,233.11 from the Tax Stabilization Reserve to finance the rest of the budget – due to the unexpected loss of revenue.

While some have argued that Seneca Meadows would still be obligated to make payments to the Town, Warfel pointed out that, “Legal action will result and there will be no additional revenue until such time as a court resolves the issue, if then.”

The Tax Stabilization Reserve has already taken a hit this year, as the Town appropriated $500,000 to cover a budget shortfall that existed before Local Law #7 was proposed. If the Town needed to appropriate more funds from the Tax Stabilization Reserve in 2016 to bridge that gap in the scenario outlined by Warfel the account would end the year with $304,287.51 remaining.

In that scenario, there wouldn’t even be enough left in the account to cover the type of gap that existed in 2016, before Local Law #7 was proposed. Warfel pointed out in her email that it would take “major budgetary changes” to bridge the gap and live without Seneca Meadows Landfill revenue.

For Seneca Falls residents Warfel indicated that the tax on a $100,000 home in 2016 for the General (A) Fund, where the revenues from Seneca Meadows go was $373. In 2017, that same line item on the same home would spike to $1,086 – an increase of nearly 300 percent.

Future Scenarios

Warfel outlined a number of scenarios in a correspondence to Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Greg Lazzaro, which was dated February 8th, 2016. The email outlines how the Town could cope with the loss of revenue to the General (A) Fund.

“If the landfill were to close today the Town Rate would increase to $9.75/thousand. This would make the base tax for someone who owns a $100,000 house $1,206.46 for this year. This rate is affected by how much the budget can be modified,” said Warfel in her email outlining these scenarios.

In this scenario, Warfel points out that the simplest way to cover the cost – would be to raise the base tax rate.

Another scenario involved eliminating the Vince’s Park Budget. She noted that the park carried a $136,438 budget. $100,000 of that budget came from the General (A) Fund, according to Warfel. “Eliminating the Vince’s Park budget would lower the Town Tax Rate by .27/thousand or $27.00 for the year. This is not a large impact, but it is an impact. The current tax rate would drop from $3.73/thousand to $3.46/thousand. If the landfill were closed the rate would drop from $9.75/thousand to $9.48/thousand.”

Another scenario, which would involve eliminating a more expensive budget – would be ending the community center budget. In 2015, the community center carried a budget of $724,575. “The budget included costs to run the center and to provide programs to residents of the community from preschool age to senior citizen,” according to Warfel. $580,000 was transferred from the General (A) Fund to cover the cost of operating the community center, which would result in a $1.63/thousand reduction in tax.

Part of that scenario includes selling the building, which Warfel highlights in her correspondence to Supervisor Lazzaro. Part of that $1.63/thousand obligation would be for maintaining the building until it is sold. At which point that number would lower again.

The third scenario involves eliminating the police force in Seneca Falls. Warfel points out that the budget for the Seneca Falls Police Department in 2015 was $1,310,320 with final expenditures for the department reaching $1,983,688. A secondary budget number was indicated as being $1,833,804 according to Warfel, which resulted in a total increase of $149,884 than was originally budgeted for the department.

The Town would be forced to contract with Seneca County, which would cost taxpayers – but not at the rate, which the Seneca Falls Police Department costs. The tax rate would have been lowered from $3.73/thousand to $1.26/thousand.

A variety of other reductions in spending were outlined by Warfel, including eliminating parks, no longer assisting the LDC in form of donations or various other entities like It’s a Wonderful Life, St. Anthony’s, and the Ludovico Trail.

While the Town Board has not taken any action on the proposed local law, an operating permit was again tabled at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting. For opponents of the proposed local law, Warfel’s numbers align with what they have been saying for months, as supporters of Local Law #7 have fought to push it forward.

Numerous speakers at recent board meetings and community forums have pointed out that the cost to taxpayers could be offset by various plans, which would need to be implemented alongside the local law.

Former Seneca Falls Mayor Brad Jones has been outspoken on the issue of sales tax sharing within Seneca County. However, that is action for the board of supervisors, which the Seneca Falls Town Board, has no control over. Supervisor Lazzaro has a seat at the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, who could initialize such a tax sharing plan, but would take weighted majority vote. It’s unclear if the kind of support that is necessary exists on the board.

Supervisor Steve Churchill, from Seneca Falls, and Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti have both talked about the sales tax sharing plan and how it could positively alleviate the stresses on the financial situation in Seneca Falls associated with Seneca Meadows revenues. It remains to be seen in the County will take up any action on this matter in the coming weeks or months.

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