WARSAW – In a world of painful tax increases, how do you alleviate the hurt?
Although Tuesday’s public hearing focused on the 2015 Wyoming County budget, wind energy and sales tax also played a role in the discussion.
In his comments to the Board of Supervisors, former Town of Warsaw councilman Bob Heubusch had expressed his displeasure with the windmill projects located in the county.
He said the red tower lights he sees on the horizon have ruined his sunsets, while his electric bills and taxes are still increasing. He asked how much income the windmills bring the county.
In response, officials said the county receives $135,000 in annual revenues, which left Heubusch incredulous, describing it as a joke.
“I get nothing because my sunset’s gone to the west, and all I see is damn blinking lights,” he said. “If you have a television on with an antenna, forget that, because you’re not going to see much of it, and we get $135,000? That’s a travesty.”
But the benefits are more-oriented toward the towns involved, county officials said – and they’re facing their own tax problems, as Supervisor Joseph Kushner of Eagle described later in the hearing.
Eagle is host to the Noble Eagle Wind Farm, which includes 93 Noble Environmental Power turbines. The town receives about $1 million in wind-related revenues annually.
“I crafted that,” Kushner said. “I was the first one to have a project. I did it for our town.”
Eagle had the fifth-largest population of senior citizens per capita in the county, he said. The town was going nowhere, and without the wind farm, its tax rate would now be more than $12 per $1,000 of assessed value.
“You think about that,” Kushner said. “You don’t have that in any of the other towns. And with senior citizens on a $100,000 house, they’d be paying $1,200 in taxes.”
Heubusch asked if Eagle would be willing to give up its surplus, to put against the county budget.
“Absolutely not,” Kushner said. “Why would we do that? We have to take care of our townspeople.”
Heubusch countered that Eagle has a surplus from taking care of its citizens, but Kushner said taxes will leap when the wind farm expires, and the surplus will be used to lessen the impact.
“We haven’t put the money away to just spend on whatever,” he said. “We put it away for the future.”
“The wind is good for a certain amount of people,” Heubusch responded. “My electric rate keeps going up and everything else goes up. You’re running a big surplus up there – a big surplus – and your people are still being taken care of. Kick it into the county budget.”
“Our money stays in our town, just like every other town,” Kushner said. “That’s where it stays, and that’s where it’s going to stay – in our town, for our town people, because we have an aging population.
“Unlike other towns, we have nothing,” he continued. “We have no major industry, we have no major farms, all our farms are small. That’s what’s keeping our farmers alive up there – the turbine sitting on their land. You can take that as cute, that’s fine, but that’s reality.”
Kushner said his original task when elected was to get Eagle out of debt, when it was going nowhere. He said senior citizens don’t have to go without medication or food, while senior citizens and youth get all the free services the town can provide.
“That was our goal,” he said. “That’s why we did it. Period.”
In the meantime, sales tax remains an additional concern. Wyoming County relies on the income, which has been stagnant for several years.
In response to a question about whether the county can increase its sales tax revenues, Supervisor Rebecca Ryan of Warsaw said the county’s doing what it can.
The Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce is running its “shop local” campaign, to try to help residents understand how important it is – since the county receives the tax money generated.
She asked how many people buy big-ticket items at businesses such as Zeches Furniture and Appliance in Warsaw, instead of driving to stores such as Lowes. It can also include using the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles, instead of making such transactions online.
“To all of you here, I would like to say please try to make an effort to buy more here,” Ryan said.
As it is, Wyoming County is taking a gamble with its 2015 budget, by adding $200,000 to its sales tax estimate, to keep the property tax rate as low as possible, Kushner said. He said if the county continues relying on fund balance, it will have nothing.
“When the state runs the show, that’s where you end up,” he said. “We’re not the only county in this boat. Everybody’s got pretty much the same complaint.
“Some counties are better-off because they have industry – a lot of industry, like Genesee County. Other counties are much worse than we are. This is the nature of it.”
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