Oswego County Legislature extends spending freeze

OSWEGO — For the third time this year, the legislature will extend its spending freeze on all non-COVID-related expenditures at its Sept. 10 meeting, according to Republican majority leader Terry Wilbur.

The freeze is expected to be extended until early January 2021.

The legislature first froze spending on May 14. That freeze expired July 9 and was subsequently extended to expire on Sept. 10. The legislature’s Finance Committee voted at its Thursday, Sept. 3 meeting to recommend the full legislature extend the freeze once again on Sept. 10.

The Committee’s Sept. 3 resolution, put forward by Legislator John Martino (R-District 6, portions of Hastings and West Monroe), states:

“Whereas, this pandemic continues to negatively impact many areas of the budget, including sales tax revenues, state funding, property tax collections, earned income, personnel costs, purchases of technology and personal protection equipment, and many others; and

Whereas, is it prudent to continue the purchasing freeze until the full financial impact of the pandemic is known;

Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Oswego County Legislature extends the current purchasing freeze until the organizational meeting of 2021, at which time this policy will be reviewed and may be abolished, modified, or extended by the Legislature.”

The resolution requires that all departments cease all purchases of discretionary nonpersonal service items, including new publications and memberships, supplies, travel, equipment, and contractual services that are not necessary to protect the health, safety and security of employees and citizens, and to ensure the continuation of high priority operations and services such as mandated functions, court-orders, law enforcement, solid waste management, and public works. Departments are to cease the initiation of new contracts or purchase orders for all but essential items and services.

All procurements, except for those related to COVID-19 emergency response, must be initiated by purchase requisition in the PeopleSoft system, and are subject to authorization by the County Administrator and/or Chairman of the Legislature.

Sales tax is a very significant part of the county’s revenues, with car sales being the major driver, so to speak, of those. With the major impact COVID-19 has had on all businesses throughout the county this year, it is no surprise the county’s sales tax revenue is seriously down from last year.

But it may come as a surprise that while sales tax collections were up every year from 2016 to 2019, the central New York region was already heading downhill in 2019 compared to previous years.

According to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, central New York sales tax collections were up 4.6% from 2016 to 2017, up even higher the next year from 2017 to 2018 registering a 5.1% increase, but up only 2.3% from 2018 to 2019.

DiNapoli blames gas prices, which fell to their lowest levels since 2016 and are another major component of upstate tax revenue, for much of the decline, but at the same time attributes New York’s new law requiring tax be collected on internet sales for some positive revenue stability. The exact amount collected since the law went into effect in June, 2019, however, has not yet been released by the state Dept. of Taxation and Finance.

Most central New York counties saw less than a 3% increase in sales taxes collected in 2019, according to the Comptroller’s office, with Oswego County coming in at a 1.3% increase over 2018, while the city of Oswego actually ended up down 0.6% compared to the previous year.

There are no sales tax figures yet for 2020, but it’s not hard to see there will be no increase over last year, and the decrease will be significant.

And so, the county legislature will maintain its conservative fiscal course and hope for better times ahead.

“We’re just trying to continue on, keeping everything in check in relation to COVID,” Terry Wilbur said. “We still haven’t been told what the state’s going to hand us, so we continue to take the precautions.”

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