COUNTY TAX: Having a plan for the added funds

We have a feeling a proposal to to increase Chautauqua County’s occupancy tax from 5% to 8% is like ringing a dinner bell for a lot of organizations that only agree on one thing — there isn’t enough money to go around for lake and waterway projects.

County Executive PJ Wendel wants the additional 3% — expected to raise between $600,000 and $700,000 a year — to be used on the county’s lakes and tributary streams. We don’t disagree with the logic behind the idea. After all, it was a good idea to dedicate 40% of the county’s existing occupancy tax is for lakes and waterways. The problem is the cost of projects that need to be done far exceeds the county’s ability to pay.

The real issue that needs to be discussed isn’t whether an additional 3% occupancy tax is a good idea, but who will decide how the money is spent. That was among the major issues raised over a Chautauqua Lake taxing district, and it will be an issue that should be answered before approving an increase to the county’s occupancy tax. There is a lot of disagreement, even now, among lake agencies and non-profits over funding. We can’t imagine fewer fights as more money is injected into the system. A group of lakefront town supervisors and village mayors have proposed creating a new group to oversee development and implementation of the new Chautauqua Lake Management Plan and manage lake and watershed activities consistent with the goal established at the outset. How does that group play into the existing funding fights that are part of the Chautauqua Watershed and Management Alliance? And how do lakes and waterways throughout the county get their hands on some of that new money, because we know Findley and Cassadaga lakes have needs too. And let’s not forget Lake Erie and its waterways, which have plenty of their own issues.

County legislators must make sure their questions are answered and that all are comfortable with how this new money would be spent before approving the additional tax. Once word gets out that the lake and waterway maintenance smorgasboard isn’t as bare as it used to be, there will be a lot of new people coming to dinner.


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