MAYVILLE - Chautauqua County's sales tax rate will stay at 7.5 percent in 2012.
Legislators voted on the issue for the third and final time Wednesday night, first debating what the rate means to taxpayers.
Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, was first to comment, calling the continuation of 7.5 percent a tax increase.
"It is not in the best interest of Chautauqua County taxpayers, I believe, to increase taxes and what we are doing here, in effect, is increasing taxes," Cornell said. "If we do not make this request, the tax rate in Chautauqua County next year will be 7 percent. By voting for this, we are voting in favor of an increase to our tax rate next year. I oppose increasing taxes for Chautauqua County residents."
The tax rate resolution ultimately passed the legislature in a 20 to 4 vote, with Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk, absent from the meeting. Along with Cornell, the resolution was opposed by John Gullo, D-Fredonia; Vickeye James, D-Jamestown; and Maria Kindberg, D-Jamestown.
Majority Leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, responded to Cornell before the vote by saying that the continuation of 7.5 percent is not a tax increase.
"The sales tax rate in Chautauqua County is currently 7.5 percent. This resolution will maintain the tax rate at 7.5 percent," Barmore said. "It is not a tax increase. By not passing this tonight, the sales tax will decrease to 7 percent (and) we lose $6.4 million in revenue which we then have to make up in property tax increases. I don't think anybody in Chautauqua County, especially those that own property, would be in favor of that happening."
Agreeing with Barmore was Jamestown Democrat Chuck Nazzaro, who said he would be in favor of as high as an 8 percent sales tax rate. Nazzaro pointed to other counties throughout the state that all have rates higher than Chautauqua County.
"If we didn't pass this tonight," Nazzaro said, "instead of an $18 million deficit, we'd be looking at a $24 million deficit."
Cornell then said lawmakers should look at the $6.4 million number as taxpayers do, not as a revenue loss but as a tax cut.
Before discussion on the sales tax issue concluded, legislator George Borrello, R-Irving, questioned why a higher rate had once been all right with Democrats.
Specifically, Borrello asked "when Mr. Parment found Jesus" in regards to the sales tax rate in Chautauqua County.
"He was fine the first twenty-something years in office raising the tax rate," Borrello said. "And then all of a sudden he found Jesus when it came to the sales tax."
Borrello said the reality of the situation is that, without the $6.4 million in sales tax revenue, the shortfall will have to come in the form of property tax increases.
"So rather than save 5 cents the next time I buy a blender, we're going to have to raise property taxes to offset that," Borrello said. "I wish we could lower property taxes and we could lower sales taxes and I wish a lot of things. I wish we could have a policeman on every corner. I wish we could have flying cars. We were promised those like 25 years ago too. But the bottom line is we live in the real world and the real world is the state is still spending money faster than we can make it as taxpayers."