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LEGISLATURE STUFF Tip of the Hat to Sales Tax

Written By Editor on 1/22/21 | 1/22/21

By Michael Ryan
CATSKILL - Talking about taxes was anything but tedious when the Greene County Legislature received the county Treasurer’s annual report which revealed a reason for revenue revealing.
Sales Tax figures for the fiscal year 2020 are up by $2,056 052 from 2019, a surprising and staggering amount given the current economic climate. The County planned for overall revenue of $32.5 million. The number comes after a sharp decrease from March until May.
Deborah Gallo, the executive fiscal administrator for the Treasurer’s office, delivered the numbers at a legislative Finance Committee meeting, Tuesday night, leaving lawmakers monetarily spellbound.
Legislature chairman Patrick Linger had one word for the windfall which no one would have predicted when commercial shutdowns began to happen, last spring and summer, amid the deepening presence of Covid 19.
“Incredible,” Linger was heard to whisper as Gallo shared the numbers during a computer Zoom conference where she also had positive data about delinquent property taxes.
“Year to date payments for 2020 collections are $7,416,876 compared to $6,674,338 in 2019 or an increase of $742,538,” Gallo reported
And the sum total of unpaid taxes is lower, decreasing $177,732 from a year ago, due in no small part to policies adopted during the pandemic.
County treasurer Peter Markou, working with the legislature, extended the deadlines for collecting delinquent taxes and put a temporary hold on foreclosures, also creating a structured installment plan.
“When this Covid thing hit, Maria and I sat down and talked,” Markou said, referring to Maria LaRosa, the Treasurer’s office director of taxes.
“We talked for a long time. We knew this was possibly going to be a disaster and our whole office worked as a team,” Markou said.
“We wanted to give people a breather because of everything that was going on with jobs and having the ability to simply pay bills.
“The bottom line is the county does not want to be in the real estate business. We don’t want to own anybody’s land,” Markou said.
It is less easy to put a finger on exactly what went on with sales tax going one way when most if not all officials figured it would go the other.
“I can’t even try to explain that,” Markou said, smiling and obviously pleased by the upturn of events. “I can say this much.
“When I go out and drive around the county, I see people spending money. When I tried to go to Walmart the other day it was mobbed.
“I would have had to walk from the very back of the parking lot. I went to Price Chopper instead and it was pretty busy there too.”
Asked if he really goes to Walmart to shop, Markou laughed and said, “of course I do. I like a deal just like anyone else.”
The next question is where will all that unexpected sales tax income go? “It will get moved around to various reserve accounts,” Linger said in a followup telephone interview.
“We are always conservative with our budget decisions and that won’t be changing. There are good reasons we aren’t bonding out highway equipment purchases. 
“And the county didn’t need to bond out to do the town of Hunter transfer station reconstruction,” Linger said, a project focused on transforming the site into a direct haul station, saving taxpayer costs for trucking solid waste.
“They were all planned so we had the money in the bank. That will continue to be our method of operation,” Linger said. 
“I would agree that it is a very accurate assessment of our thinking, last April or May, that we were expecting disaster. We’re still going to be $3 million short on the State reimbursement side.
“We got back 20 percent less than we spent, providing services for our residents. We’ve budgeted that decrease for 2020 and 2021, hoping it doesn’t go past this year. Overall we feel very fortunate,” Linger said.
County administrator Shaun Groden was economically ebullient. “As I tell Peter [Markou] all the time, cash the check!” Groden said.
“There is no doubt this is great news for the county. I will work with Peter and when we close the books in 2020 in April, we will have a clearer understanding of what the surplus is and where it will go.
“The irony of Covid has been that people aren’t buying sneakers at the mall but they are buying online. Sales tax goes to the shipping address, not the mall address, so there has been a shift in the medium.
“Once the movie theaters and restaurants reopen fully, I anticipate some pullback from that,” Groden said.
“But once we return to whatever normal will be, I wonder if people might not go back. They might have grown to like having things delivered to their door. Overall, it speaks to the strength of our economy.”

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