Bolton Supervisor Ron Conover faced a big test this year, his third as chairman of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, and so far he has failed it.
Other supervisors, including other Republicans, challenged Conover to make the way sales tax revenue gets distributed more fair and, before the leadership vote in January, Conover seemed to assure them he would. Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said Conover got his vote by pledging to make the issue his “highest priority.”
Maybe what Conover really meant was, “I’ll make it my highest priority to not budge an inch from my previous position,” although we doubt that’s how Merlino took it.
It’s no wonder some of Conover’s backers feel betrayed now. Warrensburg’s supervisor, Kevin Geraghty, who also supported Conover, is blunt in saying that Conover is looking out only for the interests of his own town and does not care about the financial struggles of Warrensburg or Glens Falls.
Supervisors are expected to advocate for the interests of their own community. But the chairman of the board is supposed to represent the county as a whole. He or she should make every effort to be fair to all the county’s communities, and Conover is not doing that.
Warren County keeps 50 percent of the sales tax revenue it collects. The other half is split among the county’s municipalities, based on assessed value. The higher the value of land in the town, the bigger the slice of sales tax cash it gets.
Bolton has a small population, but its land carries a high assessed value because of its many lakefront lots on Lake George, so Bolton gets a fat slice of the sales tax pie every year. Hague is in the same enviable position.
Warrensburg has a bigger population, but its land is not as valuable, so it gets less. Lake Luzerne, also, does not fare well under the current revenue-sharing scheme.
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Conover would have us believe that basing the split on assessed value is the only fair way to do it. He even suggested that doing it differently could be illegal, which would be a surprise to the numerous counties in New York that do it differently.
Many counties include population in their revenue-sharing scheme. In Westchester County, for example, the county keeps a third, half is distributed to municipalities based on their population and 17 percent goes to school districts based on their population.
In Wayne County, the county keeps half, distributes a third to school districts based on average daily attendance and 17 percent goes to towns based on population.
In Tompkins County, the county keeps half and distributes half to towns and villages based on population.
Some other counties use the same scheme Warren County does now. The point is, counties have leeway to make the split in various ways. (All of the county revenue-sharing schemes are listed in a 2015 report from the state Comptroller’s Office, which can be found on the web at www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/pubs/research/salestax2015.pdf.)
Conover says he has sympathy for the municipalities that are struggling to pay their bills and keep their local taxes down, even though Bolton isn’t one of them. But so far his sympathy hasn’t extended so far as helping.
Supervisors like Geraghty aren’t militant on this issue. They’re ready to compromise. They’re willing to take what they can get, but they have to get something.
The divide between the haves and have-nots in Warren County — where towns with valuable lakefront property can look forward to a revenue bonanza each year while others have to scrape just to fix their plow trucks — looks like it will only get worse. Something has to be worked out to make the situation more equitable, and it’s Conover’s responsibility to do that. If he won’t lead on this issue, then next year supervisors should make sure they elect someone who will.