MAYVILLE - Pandemonium reigned on the floor of the Legislature Wednesday, with legislators at times not knowing on what they were voting.
An emergency resolution was brought before legislators during the regularly scheduled meeting. The resolution, from State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Chautauqua County, called to amend the tax law, in relation to allocation of revenue from the hotel and motel taxes in Chautauqua County. Additionally, it called to amend the tax law relating to increasing hotel and motel taxes in the county in relation to extending the expiration of such provisions.
The resolution would allow money from the state's 2 percent bed tax to be used for the purpose of maintaining and enhancing the lakes of Chautauqua County.
Legislators received a copy of the emergency resolution just prior to their meeting, some having less than 30 minutes to review the legislation. In order for the resolution to be considered for discussion by legislators, 17 votes were needed to bring it to the floor. However, when a vote was taken, only 13 legislators voted in favor. Although there were not enough votes to bring the resolution up for discussion, Legislative Chairman Jay Gould, R-Ashville, allowed County Attorney Steve Abdella to explain the resolution, which then opened the floor to a discussion.
Due to the short amount of time they had to review the legislation, several legislators stated they felt uncomfortable passing the resolution, comparing it to how state legislators passed the NY SAFE Act in January.
"My main issue is, I just don't know enough about (the resolution) to understand the impact, whether it's intentional or unintentional, what are the consequences of the change in the language?" said George Borrello, R-Irving. "This is a renewed piece of legislation. If you change the language in a renewed piece of legislation, that changes the intent. I did not have nearly enough time to evaluate it and get the professional counsel that we need to understand the ramifications."
Legislators questioned whether money from the bed tax, which would amount to more than $500,000, could be used for all of the county's lakes and watersheds, or whether it could be used only for Chautauqua Lake. They also called for the resolution to be tabled until the next meeting. However, because the resolution was not technically on the floor of the Legislature, it could not be tabled. Additionally, the resolution could not wait for the next meeting, because state legislators were on a deadline prior to the County Legislature's June meeting.
A vote was then taken to see if enough legislators would be able to attend a special meeting for next Wednesday. Legislators then again tried to table the resolution, which still had not been brought to the floor. Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, placed a phone call to Goodell for additional information, transferring the phone to Abdella, at which point the Legislature took a five-minute recess.
When the Legislature returned, it chose to not allow Abdella to relay his conversation with Goodell. Instead, it took a series of votes, which had many legislators questioning for what they were even voting. Out of the confusion, legislators then had 18 votes to finally bring the resolution to the floor for discussion. It also voted to hold a special meeting for the purpose of discussing the resolution further next Wednesday. It voted to vote on the resolution, and then voted in favor of passing the resolution, accepting around $510,000 from the state to be used for the county's lakes.
Voting in favor of the resolution were Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Rob Stewart, R-Ellington; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; Barmore, Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Robert Whitney, D-James-town; Charles Nazzaro, D-Jamestown; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood; Gould; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; and Thomas DeJoe, D-Brocton.
Opposed were Borrello; William Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Timothy Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Victoria James, D-Jamestown; Rod Rogers, G-Forestville; and Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia. Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk was absent from the meeting.
According to Goodell, who spoke with the OBSRRVER following Wednesday's meeting, the change in the language of the resolution was meant to be a positive one for the county.
"We made it clear exactly what the original purpose of the law was," Goodell said. "That was focusing on maintaining and enhancing Chautauqua Lake, Lake Erie, Findley Lake, Cassadaga Lake and the other lakes. The entire purpose of the entire law is to help maintain and enhance our tourism industry."
He said, if the county passes the resolution, it is up to legislators to decide how funds should be used.
"The original legislation and the revised legislation stated that the actual allocation is to be made by the county government, through the county budget process," Goodell said. "That reflects our respect for the need for local legislators to exercise discretion and flexibility to respond to the unique needs of the county, as they may change from time to time."
Although the Legislature did pass the resolution, it is still planning to hold a special meeting May 29 to further discuss the resolution and determine if it will keep or rescind it.