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Should Internet Transactions Be Taxed?

We have talked about the sales tax issues in past columns, and how acute the concern is for Putnam County to be able to bring in sufficient tax revenue as a result of sales being made within our borders. Another consideration is the effect Internet sales are having on local sales tax receipts. Last year, legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives, aimed at leveling the playing field for local retailers by closing the so-called “online tax loophole”.

The idea behind the tax, as illustrated in H.R. 2775, is to create a Federal standard whereby the sales tax wherever the buyer is located would be charged on the internet transaction, much as if the buyer went to a local store to purchase. Hopefully it would be beneficial in making it less advantageous for people to buy online to avoid skipping out on paying sales tax.

There are some concerns over this approach, however. Many local businesses sell online too, and have adapted to the new paradigm caused by the Internet marketplace over the years. For those businesses, it is possible that this new regulation could create a burdensome accounting challenge and also place them at a continued price disadvantage over larger chains. There is also the question of how foreign sales and purchases would be handled. And would every individual who sells something on eBay have to collect sales tax?

It is laudable for our legislators to seek answers to this very important question. While the abovementioned bill may or may not solve the problem, it’s good to see some attention being paid to the question of how to give our small business communities the best chance to compete fairly and equitably in an increasingly global marketplace.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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A Stronger Business Community Is The Key To Prosperity

Judging from the sales tax receipts, Putnam County is facing a pretty strong economic challenge. In 2015, we were the only county in the Hudson Valley that saw sales tax collections decrease more than 3 percent. This is a distressing trend, and it’s important to draw the right conclusions from the data.

Putnam’s sales tax levy is relatively high, at 8.375%. It’s possible to draw the conclusion that the higher tax rate is part of the problem – after all, some upstate counties like Saratoga, with its 7% tax levy, posted substantial increases in tax receipts last year. But Ulster County, which increased its tax to 8% in 2014, saw one of the largest revenue increases also, bringing in 4% more into their coffers than in the past year.

The formula for higher sales tax receipts would thus seem to be more complex. It’s surely not a simple matter of raising rates to increase revenue, and it might not be wise to lower them either. Some attribute the lower sales tax revenue to lower gas prices, because there has been a substantial drop in the taxes paid on a gallon of gas. In Putnam alone that accounted for a $ 2 million decrease, enough to account for the shortfall in this year’s numbers.

I submit that relying on gas station revenues is not a good plan for a healthy county economy. We need to promote industry, bringing in a larger and more diverse business base that is more resilient to the quirks of the economy. Our communities need to welcome commercial enterprises and not handicap them with zoning and signage restrictions, and we need to better cultivate the tourism potential of being so close to 8 million potential customers in NYC and its suburbs. We’ve been driving the economic train with the brakes on for far too long.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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The Best Of Where The Country Begins

Over the last 6 years, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce has honored local business owners with the 40 under 40 award and the Trailblazer awards.   This year we are pulling together the alumni recipients for the largest networking event in Putnam County!

“This opportunity to spotlight and showcase Putnam County businesses is the best opportunity for business owners and leaders to increase their reach throughout the county. A true county wide networking opportunity”, says County Executive MaryEllen Odell.

The Trailblazer Alumni Event will be held on Thursday February 25th at the Bull and Barrel Brew Pub in Brewster from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $50 until February 15th and at $65 after February 15th at www.PutnamChamberNY.org or send a check to Putnam County Chamber of Commerce at 953 South Lake Boulevard, Mahopac, NY 10541.

Sponsorship opportunities are available (deadline February 11, 2016).   $500 purchases ¼ page in the event program and the company logo on invitations.   $1000 adds a display table and a “Principle” Membership level in the Chamber for 2016. $2500 takes the above but upgrades to a “Distinguished” Membership level, also a 30 second video spot on cable TV and 5 tickets to the event. Finally, the $5000 level includes the logo on invitations, a display table, a “Guardian” membership in the Chamber, 5 minutes to speak at the Trailblazer Alumni Event and 10 tickets.

The above represent some great opportunities to not only promote your business but also give much needed support to our County’s premier business organization.   The Chamber is growing more and more influential each year because of the increasing involvement of our local business community.   We are a force to be reckoned with in the Hudson Valley, and this means good news for Putnam County in attracting more business, better jobs, a broader tax base, enhanced grant monies, and raising the quality of life for us all.

So please come out to the Trailblazer Alumni Event! We look forward to seeing you at this event to help us celebrate the best of Putnam County.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Putnam County’s IDA Needs A Reboot

The board of the Putnam County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) resigned en-masse on Tuesday evening, January 12, 2016, over a situation that has been building for some time. IDAs are local municipal (County, city, village) entities organized under the mandates and regulations of the State. As government entities, they differ from economic development corporations (EDCs).

The EDC operated as a marketing force, utilizing IDA resources as a “tool box” of incentives to facilitate deals. A few years ago, requirements placed on IDAs became more specific and costly to comply with, and financing capabilities such as bonding were hampered by an unattractive bond market as well as more cumbersome rules and regulations. Financing through the IDAs often requires more time and effort than a business is willing to expend, especially with commercial financial institutions aggressively seeking to fulfil their needs.

Putnam’s EDC/IDA team had personnel issues a couple of years ago and the IDA was without an Executive Director, run by a volunteer board. A 2013 audit by the New York State Comptroller found some points of non-compliance and made 11 recommendations for correction. The IDA board, under the leadership of Acting Chairman Richard Ruchala, corrected those deficiencies.  Still, the IDA was not generating sufficient funding through its traditional means due to the changes in the regulatory requirements and the decline in economic activity to fulfil its operations. It requested funding from the County – administration and legislature. Such funding was not forthcoming, and the board resigned, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

New York State’s changing mandates, requirements and priorities have caused the termination of many IDAs. Perhaps it’s time for a reboot – a smaller county, such as Putnam, would probably be better served with a reconfigured team of EDC – IDA – Tourism and, perhaps the Chamber of Commerce, to market, incentivize, and facilitate the right mix of business for our unique circumstances.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Setting the 2016 Legislative Agenda

The Business Council of New York State has set another aggressive agenda this year, calling for various legislative reforms in Albany and for infrastructure, education and workforce development investment to bring our state’s economy forward. The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce is setting a legislative priority plan that additionally focuses on our local and county-wide concerns.

To help build our economic future, Putnam County, in a county-wide partnership with its 6 towns and 3 villages, applied through the Governor’s Consolidated Funding Application process to prepare a feasibility study. This study would involve collaborative problem solving to offer solutions for the infrastructure development we need to make Putnam a viable place for businesses to become established or expand – especially emphasizing tourism and arts-and-culture. We requested funding for a $250,000 study; however the State Award came back as $50,000. Putnam County Planner Barbara Barosa and a team of knowledgeable people will now be working with these funds to put together the basis for future applications for projects that will, hopefully, be funded in the next round of the CFA process. The Mid-Hudson Region did not win one of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative awards, but did receive over $90 million for 2015’s project applications. Putnam received $475,500 and shared in a couple of regional program awards.

We now look forward to pulling together this county-wide feasibility plan. With new people in the leadership roles in our County Legislature and new Supervisors in Patterson and Putnam Valley as well as some new faces on Town Boards, we can look forward to continuing our positive relations with our elected officials. We will be holding our annual Elected Officials Forum on March 13th. Each year these collaborative get-togethers have resulted in building better communication among our leaders at the local, county, state and federal level. The Putnam County Chamber of Commerce will continue to work with our elected officials to promote business-friendly, community-conscious development so we can all enjoy and prosper in this 21st Century.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce

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Minimum Wage Increases And Other Regulations Pressuring Small Business

To tackle a difficult subject, I enlisted the opinions and help of a friend, past CEO of the Mahopac-Carmel Chamber of Commerce and present President/CEO, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County Pete Bardunias.

From time to time we have teamed up to share business insights from both ends of Tech Valley and the Hudson Valley on important issues, and 2016 has brought quite a few new regulations to small business owners. We believe that the minimum wage increases now going into effect are presenting special challenges to our business communities.

Imran Siddiqui, owner of a Domino’s Pizza franchise in Halfmoon, NY (Saratoga County) mentioned recently that small businesses like his may be in danger of closure, because “my payroll will go up by $1500 per week without any additional increase in sales.” Similar sentiments exist here in Putnam County, where small business drives the local economy. The main issue is whether the mandated increases can safely be absorbed by local businesses without forcing cutbacks in staff size and/or services. In Saratoga County, where some farms compete with fast-food franchises for workers, they have moved away from hiring 14 and 15 year olds who have used those jobs to gain work experience, in favor of experienced immigrant workers. Also, some industries struggle to find workers right now, even though they already pay the wages the “Fight For 15” movement seeks. Manufacturing companies need workers with a minimal amount of training who wish to pursue careers in industry, and report considerable frustration in not being able to obtain them. It begs the question – with all these good quality jobs available, why incentivize workers not to gain the necessary training to pursue living wages in manufacturing companies, especially given that many of these companies will actually pay for the training?

In Putnam County, entrepreneur and owner of several Verizon Wireless zones, David Robles says the increases have actually had the exact opposite results. His employees are paid minimum wage plus commission to wind up around $18-$20 an hour average. He used to give raises on the the minimum wage portion based on performance reviews. “As a result of the increases, we have had to stop giving the raises. We have also had to eliminate our entry level and part time jobs. We have also had to lower our commission payout to get the employees to the same $18-$20 an hour. This effects the sales motivation, causes higher turn over, less jobs, less sales. The result? my employees actually make less with the increases in minimum wage and my bottom-line is effected. This on top of tax increases, inventory cost increases, rent increases, health insurance costs increases. We need small business and health care reform or we wont last”

Regulations are mounting on small business, due to State and Federal decrees regarding taxes, employee relations, health and safety requirements, the Affordable Care Act and now the minimum wage. We understand that our organization represent members whose opinions may differ on these subjects, but wanted to recognize the very real burden this mountain of government requirements is placing on the business community.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce, and Pete Bardunias, President/CEO, the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County

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Annual Trailblazer Awards Event To Recognize Over 100 Past Recipients

Another year with many positive achievements is ending, and a new one with much promise is about to begin for Putnam County. To help get things off to a fast start, we are changing things up a bit. We are moving the venue to the Bull and Barrel Brew Pub in Brewster and we have chosen to celebrate all of our past Trailblazer Award recipients of the past 6 years. That is well over 100 Putnam County business leaders to recognize and celebrate!

“We are looking to create the only true county wide networking opportunity while showcasing many great business leaders. We always sell out at close to 350 people at this event. Given its networking potential, we hope to see even more attendees at this one!”, says Trailblazer award chairwoman Julie Boyd.

A Trailblazer Award is a great honor, honoring the recipient as someone who has striven to positively impact our business communities. The event will be on February 25th; so Save the Date!

Dinner, live music and entertainment while creating new business opportunities is the setup at this marquee occasion which attracts business owners and community leaders from throughout the County. It’s an opportunity for all of us to get together and share in the richness of our communities, our commerce districts, and our culture.

Tickets will be available soon – for more information visit www.putnamchamberny.org or call Putnam County Chambers of Commerce President Bill Nulk at (845) 228-8595 for assistance.

– Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Real Estate Market Helps Explain Our Local Economy

According to data from the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, with a footprint of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties, the Putnam County housing market is trailing Orange but leads Rockland and Westchester with an increase of sales up 21% during the 3rd Quarter of 2015 vs 2014.  All in all 2015 has been a strong market for Putnam County. Median sales price show increases in Single family home, Condos and co-ops. Our inventory shows a slight decrease as do all neighboring counties over 2014, thus trending in the direction of steady recovery.

One area for concern for Putnam County is that real estate experts are reporting younger populations are returning to downtown, urban areas. Inman news said that “Many cities nationwide have undergone a cultural renaissance of sorts. City planners and business owners have transformed urban spaces into 18- and 24-hour locales that attract the younger buyers mentioned earlier into the cities. No longer is it acceptable that only the great coastal cities can be alive around the clock and on weekends. The 18-hour city is emerging across the country, and the urban core is competing again.”  

With senior citizens being our only rising population in Putnam County a serious effort focusing on our downtown areas, convenient Public transportation, walkability and an easy commute is a must. However, overlooking the younger generations doesn’t support the new information economy, nor does it strengthen our workforce which is crucial in attracting industries. As Medicaid costs continue to rise, a balance in age demographics is crucial.

As stated in future market reports, Putnam County does possess some things in its favor when it comes to property values.

  • We have a low unemployment rate of 4.4%.
  • We are an affluent community with a median household income of $92,711.
  • Since 2009, Putnam County’s crime rate has decreased 34.2% making it the most improved county in New York State in this metric.
  • Our home ownership rate is 83.4% which is much higher than surrounding counties.
  • We are still a small, closely knit community with our population just under 100,000.

There is room for even more optimism. Our current Administration works hand in hand with our EDC/IDA, Chambers of Commerce, and Tourism and is focused on quality of life issues such as infrastructure improvements, revitalization, smart development, and transportation improvements. The county continues to partner with local Realtors to sell county-owned properties. We have astutely avoided over development and over commercialization and instead are famous for scenic bodies of water, parks and mountains. Plus, Putnam County still lies within a short, easy commute to Manhattan.

The fact that Putnam County shares the region’s continually increasing taxes, offers fewer services than neighboring counties, and has a less developed infrastructure makes it a challenge to attract more buyers to the county. Luckily, these issues are balanced by the pleasant lifestyle offered by the open, green spaces, bodies of water and privacy we have to offer. Putnam County is poised for growth. We have many revitalization and infrastructure improvements in the works such as Envision Brewster, a new sewer district in Kent, improvements in downtown Mahopac, hopeful municipal water for Putnam Valley’s Oregon corners and slated projects for Southeast, Coupled with our beautiful surroundings and demographics we will continue on our path of housing recovery. This is where we, the community at large come in. I encourage more fellow community members to get involved at a local level to monitor municipal governments and partner with our elected officials to slow down the tax increases, and foster sustainable improvement to the quality of life.

Future development must encourage millennials to move to Putnam County, bring industry that keeps them working and provide transportation for them to live the lifestyles they desire. We can make a difference. While we face our challenges, Putnam County should enjoy a favorable real estate market in the near future, benefiting from collaborative efforts to build an even stronger community and an attractive place to live, work and play.

– Jennifer Maher, Vice President Hudson Gateway Of Realtors

2016 Vice President Hudson Valley Chapter New York State Commercial Association of Realtors.

Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Shopping Small At The Holidays

For Small Business Saturday, Putnam County Executive Maryellen Odell and I did some shopping as we usually do, visiting small businesses throughout the area and enjoying the experience of supporting our neighborhood shops which mean so much to the local economy. Spending time in the businesses gave us an opportunity to see how things were going on this important shopping day, but also to demonstrate that your countywide Chamber of Commerce is working closely with officials to ensure healthy, steady growth and opportunity for businesspeople as well as current and future employees.

“It was a real super way to kick off the holiday season by checking on all our “small shops ” and to wish them all a very healthy and prosperous Christmas and Hanukah,” said County Executive Odell, “and get a good deal of my holiday list checked off!” I felt the same. There are quality shops with great products, some of them locally made, to fill out your holiday list. We visited the following stores: Kismet in Cold Spring, which specializes in “gifts for her”, then the General Store in Cold Spring which has a variety of gifts for adults. Next we stopped at Swing in Cold Spring, which serves both children and women. Carmel Flower Shop has gifts for all, as does Verizon Wireless Zone in Brewster. Then we drove through Patterson to the Patterson Greenhouse, offering gifts for the “green thumbs” in our lives, and finished up at Lynn’s Card Smart in Mahopac which has a variety of holiday cards and gifts.

This was just a sampling of the many possibilities to shop locally. You can buy everything from cards and small gifts to cars and boats, without crossing out of our county’s borders. There truly are many reasons to “Shop Putnam”, and our County Executive and I were proud to help lead the way for area shoppers.

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce

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Small Business Saturday Brings Opportunity to Putnam Entrepreneurs

Each year, an event designed to support and promote the approximately 80 million independent businesses in this country has grown larger and stronger. Known as Small Business Saturday, the event takes place the Saturday after Thanksgiving (this year it’s Saturday, November 28) and continues to draw attention on the need to support local small business entrepreneurs despite living in the era of the big box stores. Admittedly in Putnam County it’s a lot easier to support small business since the overwhelming majority of businesses in our county are run by families.

To support the initiative, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce is once again coordinating a group effort in conjunction with County Executive Maryellen Odell and business leaders from throughout the County (Brewster, Carmel-Kent, Cold Spring Area, Greater Mahopac-Carmel, Patterson, and Putnam Valley). Members of the Chambers and our County Executive will be visiting businesses in each of our commerce districts in a “cash mob” style, making purchases and helping instill a little extra excitement in our communities. Stores in each commerce district will be visited, as designated by each of the participating local Chambers. Last year, it was so exciting to be able to participate in such a powerful marketing tool, directly helping some but indirectly focusing attention on all of Putnam’s independently owned businesses.

You can make a difference in helping support small businesses – simply Think Local First when choosing where to purchase items. With a little research you’ll be surprised at how many needed items you can get here, from a local merchant, where your dollars stay here in the county and help your neighbors support their families. Given the time to prepare, perhaps you can support our Small Business Saturday initiative – plan ahead as to where you might begin your holiday shopping, and after putting the Thanksgiving dishes away, come spend a Saturday shopping locally in Putnam County!

-Jennifer Maher, Chairwoman, the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce