Also moves to ban vape shops and suspend Upland development
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea last week renewed a call for Putnam County to share sales tax revenue and criticized its refusal to do so as “harder to rationalize” than ever because of surpluses.
The issue arose when Nancy Montgomery, a former Town Board member a month into her new job as a Putnam County legislator, asked the board about topics of concern.
Unlike most New York counties, Putnam does not return a portion of the sales tax to the municipalities where it is collected. The county stance has long frustrated local officials because historic Cold Spring and Nelsonville, the Hudson River shore, and the Highlands’ mountains and state parks draw throngs of tourists while the town and villages bear the costs.
At $60.5 million, sales tax is the county’s largest source of revenue. It accounts for about 40 percent of Putnam County’s $160 million budget for this year. The property tax share is $43.5 million, and the remainder comes from the state and federal governments and income generated by county departments.
Shea objected to the county’s retention of sales tax revenue even when its take exceeds expectations and the amount allocated for the budget. “It’s so glaring when you’re hitting record overages,” he protested.
According to data provided to the county Legislature’s Audit Committee on Jan. 24, Putnam County received $63.1 million in sales tax in 2018 but only planned on $58.5 million and thus ended up with a $4.6 million surplus. There also were surpluses in three of the four previous years, ranging from $1.4 million to $4.3 million.
“Where is that money going?” Shea asked.
From the audience, Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, a Garrison resident, said sales tax supports the assignment of sheriff’s deputies as resource officers at schools. The county pays half of the cost, he said. Putnam has nine SROs, including one at Haldane.
Shea and Councilor Mike Leonard responded that the board questions the surpluses, not the sales tax included in the annual budgets.
Though not rolled into the budget, the surpluses still “have to be accounted for,” Shea said. “And there should be explanations, to the townships which generate that money, of where that excess revenue is going.”
He referred to sales tax as the No. 1 concern of the six town supervisors. “Why can’t we get a percentage of that money back?”
Montgomery promised to raise the matter in Carmel and suggested that the county could perhaps help fund Philipstown’s drug-abuse resources coordinator job, just as it helps underwrite the salary of the town’s senior resources coordinator.
The board said it planned to continue its ban on electronic cigarette-vape shops for six months and send its draft extension to the county for review. It also will hold another public hearing on the issue. It established the moratorium in June.
The goal is a law that regulates vape shops, Shea said. As a town, “you can’t completely discriminate against anything like that — not vaping, not pornography” or anything else that’s legal. “So what you want to do is limit the area in which they’re allowed.”
In December, Putnam County legislators created a $250 licensing requirement for vape shops. It will begin on July 1 and be enforced by the Health Department.
The board decided to immediately suspend development on Upland Drive and to follow-up with a formal moratorium and impact study. It scheduled further discussion for Feb. 20.
Last fall residents objected to a parcel owner’s plan to develop a rocky, wooded site at the crest of the narrow, private lane, which is gouged by potholes. It winds steeply between Old Albany Post Road and Winston Lane at the southern end of Philipstown.
“There’s no way that [road] would meet current standards” and any building project along it “is going to cause somebody, downhill, problems,” Shea said.
“I don’t think there’s anything as bad in this town as that,” Leonard remarked.