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Officials want sales tax collected
By:LEEANNE ROOT, Dispatch Staff Writer
VERONA - Local elected officials called on Gov. Eliot Spitzer to make good on his promise to collect sales taxes from the Oneida Indian Nation for sales of gas and cigarettes to non-Indians at an informational seminar at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School Thursday evening.
"It's time this governor follows campaign promises he made," said Oneida County Legislator Michael Hennessy.
"Pataki and Spitzer have been our problem all along," said Rocco DiVeronica, chairman of the Madison County Board of Supervisors. He explained that Madison County could be collecting about $2 million a year for property taxes from the Nation and about $5 million in sales tax on the sale of gas and cigarettes to non-Indians.
"It's a lot of money for a small community like us," DiVeronica said. "The Oneida Indian Nation is not paying their fair share." He added that if the Nation was paying full property and sales taxes, Madison County could drop its sales tax from eight percent to seven percent.
He said that of the 20 gas stations in the county, the Nation owns and operates 13 of them; leaving only seven that pay taxes.
At this point, several members of the audience chanted, "Shut them down!"
"It's not as if they're not collecting taxes. If they weren't, the price would be 40 cents less," said Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-111. "I want to pull in there and say 'you just gave the Nation $7 or $8 of your tax money.'"
Elected officials aren't the only ones advocating a "level playing field" for businesses.
A recent news release from James Calvin, the president of the New York state convenience store owners, announced the organization is funding commercials urging Spitzer to collect taxes on sales to non-Indians.
"Governor Spitzer pledged that on day one, everything would change," Calvin said in the release. "But on the tax collection issue, nothing has."
The governor put $200 million in revenue in the state budget this year from collection of the taxes to sales made to non-Indians.
And according to Madison County Attorney John Campanie, the Nation can afford to pay the taxes owed to the state and local governments.
"If real property taxes were collected and if sales taxes were collected, the Oneidas would still have $77 million to share among its 1,000 members," he said. "Not a hardship."
The Nation's application to the state for a liquor license was also discussed.
Magee doesn't feel the Nation should be granted a liquor license until it agrees to pay taxes.
"How can you grant a license to somebody who has clearly shown they aren't going to abide by laws of the state of New York," he said.
Hennessy explained that a violation of the smoking ban was brought against the Nation, but the county has never collected any money.
"Every other bar or establishment has paid their fines," he said.
Every speaker Thursday night wants to come to a fair resolution to the land claim issues.
The officials said the tribe's plan to have the federal government take 17,000 acres of Nation-owned land into trust could create major problems.
DiVeronica said Nation areas "create a hole in the middle of our community. He said it's hard to govern "because you don't know where the boundaries are."
Campanie presented slides showing lands acquired by the Nation. What started on the map as a small red dot, just north of Stockbridge, grew into a number of red areas throughout Madison County.
He said the tribe's land purchases have been "predatory."
"Lands have not been acquired to assemble a contiguous, governable reservation, but for commercial advantage - acquiring key commercial properties and intersections throughout Madison and Oneida counties," Campanie said. "Upon acquisition, property is unilaterally declared to be Indian country, free from local and state regulation and taxation."
He further explained that the Nation then uses services and infrastructure without paying its fair share.
The seminar was hosted by the Central New York Fair Business Association and the Citizens for Equal Rights Alliance. The groups said it was meant to inform and update the public.
Debby and Scott Murray, of Verona, were among about 75 other gathered area residents and said they learned a lot.
"There were quite a few points that I was not aware of," Scott said, "it was very informative for me."
Others said they were glad to hear an update on the issues and feel such sessions are important.
"I think they're starting to make more progress," said Donna Emery, of Rome. "Local individuals don't understand that they're paying for the Oneida Indian Nation to not pay."
Those in attendance had the opportunity to sign a petition organized by Upstate Citizens for Equality urging the state to not allow the Nation to obtain a liquor license.
"None of us are here to eliminate any jobs or close the casino," Hennessy said. "We're here for fairness and equality."
©The Oneida Daily Dispatch 2007
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