Cobleskill village agrees to sell water to possible jail site


By Patsy Nicosia

As much as the Village of Cobleskill needs—and officials believe, deserves—a bigger share of Schoharie County’s sales tax pie, they reluctantly agreed Wednesday they can’t hold its water hostage to get it.
The village has been arguing for years that it doesn’t get its fair share of county sales tax revenues because it bears the cost of things like roads, water, and even police protection for shoppers who travel into Cobleskill.
The issue came up again after the county asked the village to sell water and sewer service to the likeliest site for the new jail--the fire training center in Howes Cave.
The county will be responsible for digging, operating and maintaining the lines and the village would bill the water at 1.5 times its in-village rate.
Estimates for how much water the jail will use vary, but County Treasurer Bill Cherry said the village can expect $50,000 to $100,000 a year from the water sale.
Wednesday, after fine-tuning some minor details in LaBella Associate’s feasibility study for the $9 million jail, Trustee Nancy Van Deusen led the charge to get more sales tax in exchange for water.
“I find it difficult to see any way this benefits village taxpayers, who are assuming all of the liability,” Ms. VanDeusen said. “We support the infrastructure that makes the sales tax possible and deserve a larger piece,” though she didn’t say how much larger of a piece.
Mr. Cherry told the village only the county Board of Supervisors can change how sales tax is awarded—now it’s based on assessed value--and it’s unlikely the 15 other towns would support Cobleskill’s request.
“But I encourage you to take it to the county board, the county administrator,” he said. “I’m not optimistic that it will happen because you’re asking each one of the towns to take less.”
As for the county, he said, property taxes and sales tax are its only source of revenue.
Mr. Cherry said his sales tax revenue figures aren’t broken down by town so it’s impossible to tell who’s generating what—though Sandy MacKay, a former trustee who’s also argued for a bigger share for the village, said an independent 2008 study estimated them at $9 million.
Without Cobleskill’s businesses, which the village provides the infrastructure for, Mr. MacKay said the entire pie would be a lot smaller; in 2016, the total sales tax collected by the county was $14,640,829.64.
Trustee Howard Burt joined the discussion—but said he was uncomfortable talking about it “in this atmosphere...holding up the jail,” and said he’d be happy if the county even just agreed to consider the village’s request.
From the audience, Cobleskill Supervisor Leo McAllister said the discussion was mixing two different issues.
He also reminded the village that the county put up $2 million for the water line expansion from the village out to Howes Cave.
“So the county did step up,” he said. “If not for that, the project wouldn’t be in place.”
However, it’s been less successful than hoped: There aren’t yet enough hookups to the lines to keep the water circulating, so Water Superintendent Joe Redmond has to dump 30,000 to 40,000 gallons of water every two weeks to move additional water though the lines.
Providing water to the jail would eliminate the need for that, Mr. Redmond said.
“The sale of the water alone will benefit the village,” he said, “and so I agree with Leo. I don’t agree with holding the water hostage.”
As the discussion went back and forth, Mr. Cherry all but begged the village for its water.
“Please sell us the water and sewer and take the revenue it will generate,” he said.
“I understand your concern,” added Mr. McAllister, “but we can’t throw away” the $37.5 million FEMA has promised for the jail. “We could not float that kind of loan to build that jail...”
With no assurance that the sales tax issue would even be addressed—though Mr. McAllister said he’d do his best—Mr. Burt called for the vote and all but Ms. Van Deusen voted in favor of it.
“I really hope the county takes it to heart and does something,” he said.