Crestwood arrests influence tax rates, Schuyler County budget shows

WATKINS GLEN — The 2017 Schuyler County budget shows a 1.6 percent increase in spending, but a 5.1 percent decrease in the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value.

Helping reduce the tax rate from $8.17 to $7.75 is new revenue from the del Lago Resort & Casino in Tyre, Seneca County, and Tioga Downs Casino in Tioga County.

But costs associated with protests at the Crestwood Midstream LLC gas storage facility in the town of Reading are a factor in the public safety budget increasing by 3.1 percent, the budget category showing the largest percentage increase.

“Both road patrol and jail have budgeted higher-than-normal increases in 2017. Overall law enforcement costs are increased to reflect trends associated with significantly increased drug activities and arrests as well as continued civil disobedience response,” County Administrator Tim O’Hearn said.

There have been more than 400 arrests at the site since November 2014. Protesters oppose the proposed storage of liquid propane in underground salt caverns on the 576-acre site.

“The number of arrests in Schuyler County have increased 32 percent since 2014 and the gas storage protests are a major reason why,” Dennis Fagan, legislature chairman, said in a written statement.

In 2016, the Sheriff’s Department personnel costs exceeded the amount budgeted. Fagan said for 2017, that budget has been increased by more than $100,000.

“That means our budget for law enforcement personnel is now up 20 percent from just two years ago. For a county of less than 19,000 people, these costs are significant,” Fagan said.

Legislator Philip Barnes, former Schuyler County undersheriff, said the county is working hard to keep property taxes low and fight the drug epidemic that is plaguing local communities.

“That mission is made harder when anti-gas protesters are handing local taxpayers a significant bill for additional law enforcement and court costs,” Barnes said in a written statement. “Many of these protesters aren’t even from our county, yet these funds are being spent on cleaning up their mess rather than helping the people who actually live here.”

By DAVID L. SHAW dshaw@fltimes.com