County: Sales tax revenue celebration premature

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — One of the main factors driving Erie County’s economic engine are entertainment districts, like Hertel and Elmwood avenues, the newly opened Main Street downtown or Williamsville’s Main Street. It’s growth local can see and experience.

But while Erie is one of just three regions in the state to see growth in sales tax revenue, the county’s chief financial officer paints a different picture.

“My initial reaction is, looks can be a little deceiving,” said Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw.

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report late Monday showing Erie County (and to a larger degree WNY), was one of three regions to experience growth in sales tax revenue in 2015. The others were New York City and Syracuse. While sales tax revenues dropped in 30 counties, Erie saw 1.6 percent growth, according to DiNapoli.

Mychajliw says the state report should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Even though the sales tax is up, technically it’s off budget,” he said. “And so that’s basically a negative variance. We have less money coming in as expected, and for the budget, that’s not a good thing.”

The county estimated sales tax growth in 2015 to be 2.4 percent. The state report showed 1.6 percent growth.

That gap, according to Mychajliw, is mostly due to Canada’s struggling economy.

“There is no question, no question, the weakness of the Canadian dollar is having a negative impact on our sales tax revenue,” he said.

And there are several other factors. While local drivers are lauding lower gas prices, the declining cost of fuel is hurting the county’s sales tax revenue.

But there’s a saving grace — two of them in fact: The county’s emerging medical corridor and it’s slate of higher education. Better jobs typically mean better paying salaries.

“There’s a lot more higher paying jobs in our region, and that means those folks are spending a lot of money in our economy, and that means a lot more sales tax revenue coming in,” Mychajliw said.

In addition to restaurant- and bar-lined streets throughout Buffalo neighborhoods like Allentown, other entertainment venues are playing a key role. With its dual rinks and proximity to hotels and eateries, Harbor Center has become a unique attraction

“Every weekend we bring in something whether it’s our own tournaments, we have over 25 of those, and other events,” said Nik Fattey, vice president/director of hockey for the center. “All these things we’re bringing in is all brand new. We’re not relocated things from around Buffalo. We’re creating new things and making it a unique destination for people to come.”

So successful, it’s serving as a model for other cities, Fattey said.

“Other cities don’t have this,” he said. “A lot of other cities are looking at what we’re doing because it’s so great, with the hotel, the rinks, the restaurants, all the other partners, the newness of Canalside. When people come here, they can’t believe it.”

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