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County’s action will hike gas prices

June 24, 2008
Greg Bacon

Lately, there’s been a debate in Mayville as to whether the county should remove the “cap” on gasoline taxes. The basic argument is this: our gasoline is about the same as neighboring counties, yet in Chautauqua County we are only taxed for the first $2 (for the county portion). County officials believe that because there is no “savings,” there is no reason to only tax the first $2. In fact, some county legislators believe that if they tax us on the entire amount of gasoline, our gas prices won’t go up.

Let me make a sure-fire prediction: they will.

There is no doubt gasoline taxes will go up if the legislature has its way and removes the gas cap tax. The reason I am so certain is because of history.

In August of 2004 while I covered county government, I wrote an article about gas prices in Chautauqua County. Legislature Chairman Keith Ahlstrom had sent a letter to then-state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer asking for an investigation on gas prices in Chautauqua County. The reason was because gas prices were $2.07 in Dunkirk and Fredonia for regular unleaded, yet they were $1.95 in Buffalo and $1.88 in Hamburg.

“I have concluded that gas prices are higher in this county, factoring in taxes, and I have no explanation as to why this would be the case,” Ahlstrom wrote in his letter. “I am requesting that you look into this matter to determine if there is any wrongdoing, such as collusion, in the setting of gas prices in Chautauqua County.”

At that time, there was no gas tax “cap,” but even if there was, it wouldn’t have had any impact because the cap was put in for gasoline prices beyond $2.

Now here we are four years later, and our gasoline prices are the same as Erie County, N.Y. And lawmakers are upset they could’ve taken another $2 million of our money if only they had been taxing the full amount, rather than the first $2.

If you tax the full $4.25 (or what ever gas prices are today), the price of a gallon of gasoline is going to go up. It has to. What makes you think that retailers are going to bite the bullet? They weren’t afraid before of charging us more than Erie County. And no, Spitzer never did anything about Ahlstrom’s letter.

As to why gas prices in this area are higher than Erie County, I don’t know. I remember talking to gas station owners about why they were charging more for fuel than the Buffalo area. Their basic response was “those officials don’t know what they’re talking about — we’re not making any money on gasoline.” It’s hard to prove they were lying.

Should the Chautauqua County Legislature and County Executive Greg Edwards tax us more for gasoline? Some would say they should take more of our money on gasoline if they promise to lower our property taxes in return. I’m not saying I’m for that or against that principle. Our property taxes are too high. Is the solution to tax fuel more so that not only tourists pay a part of this, but also teenagers and county residents who can’t afford to buy a house? That’s something county


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