Chautauqua County officials are exploring different options to reduce gasoline taxes.
On Monday, the Legislature Administrative Services Committee held a 45-minute discussion on the topic, and then on Thursday, the Legislature Audit and Oversight Committee held a 30-minute discussion on the topic.
Legislation will need to be approved by Wednesday for the gasoline tax breaks to take effect by summer.
According to county attorney Stephen Abdella, the state decided to suspend two of its taxes for seven months. The state also gave counties the option of setting sales tax at 8 cents per gallon, 12 cents per gallon, or 16 cents per gallon. The state has not given counties the option to remove sales tax entirely.
Abdella said arrangements can be made so that if gasoline prices fall below a certain level, the sales tax can revert to a percentage instead of a flat rate.
Abdella also said any sales tax changes must be made 30 days before the start of a sales tax quarter, which in this case would be June 1. That means the county legislature needs to make an amendment this month for the change to go through. effective June 1. Otherwise, any changes would be delayed until September 1.
At Thursday’s committee meeting, Abdella told members that the four Democratic members of the legislature had asked him to pre-table a sponsored resolution on their behalf to set the sales tax at 12 cents a gallon. This resolution will be voted on by the entire legislature on Wednesday.
County Finance Director Kitty Crow said if the Legislature passes the 12-cent-a-gallon tax rate, she believes it won’t hurt the county’s budget.
“In my opinion, that would put us on budget. We wouldn’t expect a surplus and we wouldn’t expect a deficit,” she says.
She provided both committees with an analysis of the impact of the gas tax change. Even with a tax rate of 12 cents a gallon, Crow noted there are many variables, including whether gas prices go up or down, whether people’s driving habits change and how much the county will have to spend. more if oil prices remain. high.
“You could say that if we made no changes and ended up with a fuel tax surplus, that would offset the increases in road maintenance costs,” she says.
In Crow’s analysis, she predicts that if gasoline remains at $4.19 a gallon and no sales tax changes are made, the county will collect $1.2 million in additional revenue, of which $729,000 will go to the county budget and $511,000 to cities, towns and villages.
Lawmaker Terry Niebel said he wanted to make sure the county doesn’t hurt its own departments by making fuel tax changes. “I’m all for the gas tax cut, but I want to know exactly what effect it’s going to have on…departments that use a lot of fuel,” he said, using the sheriff’s office and the public amenities department as examples.
Budget Director Kathleen Dennison said if gas prices stay as they are, she estimates the county DPF will have a budget shortfall of $300,000. She didn’t have figures available for the sheriff’s office and added that fuel costs for other departments are relatively low by comparison.
Lawmaker Dan Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, said the case can be made for individuals to make changes in their own lives to save fuel. “I have to be responsible somehow and not depend on the government to save money, but on myself, so there’s a fine line there,” he said.
Lawmaker Jay Gould, R-Ashville, said he’s worried the sales tax cut will hurt local municipalities. “We could waste the budget of very many cities”, he said.
Crow, however, was not so worried. “If it were set at 12 cents, they would expect to get as much as they got,” she said, but acknowledged that costs to individual municipalities would likely rise due to rising fuel prices.
She also said the gasoline tax represents about 6% of the county’s total sales tax budget. “It’s not necessarily going to make or break our total sales tax budget,” Raven said.
Although no Republicans have officially said they support the Democrats’ 12-cent-a-gallon proposal, they have said they favor a sunset clause on Dec. 1, which would mean that if passed next week, sales tax would come back in the way. it is now, as of this date.
Abdella noted that any changes to the motor vehicle sales tax would apply to both gasoline and diesel fuel. It would not apply to aviation fuel.