City of dreams

You may not have heard that much about the City of Oneida, N.Y., but you are about to. Oneida has been selected as a community that is comparable to Geneseo and is being studied for the soon-to-be released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) being prepared for Newman Development’s proposed Lowes project.

The chief similarity is that both communities have a population of around 10,000 and a Super Wal-Mart. One critical difference is that Oneida has a brand new 168,000 square foot Lowes, and Newman would like Geneseo to have one. The idea of the study is to see the effects of opening a Lowes on a similar-sized community, but it may be a little early to tell since the Lowes has only been open for a couple of months.

Nevertheless I, and my partner in crime, Bill Lofquist took a road trip Tuesday to get a sneak preview of Oneida. if you would like to see our Oneida photo album click here. Bill will be reporting his impressions of Oneida in his column Thursday. Here are mine:

Although Oneida is an incorporated city, it’s population does not feel much denser than Geneseo. The city, at 22 square miles, is almost half the size of the whole Town of Geneseo and has rural parts and even some farmland.

The downtown district is larger than Main Street Geneseo, but has a much higher percentage of vacant storefronts. I lost count at over a dozen empty buildings including the very large old Oneida Hotel.

In fairness, this blight may have more to do with other factors besides the Big Box district on the edge of town. A short 10 minute drive away is another Big Box, the Turning Stone Casino, run by the Oneida Indian tribe.

The casino reportedly employs almost 5,000 people in the area with a total payroll of over $100 million. While one might hope that some of those wages would filter back to downtown merchants, there is no evidence that it does. Maybe they gamble it away!

There is one key difference, however, that makes the Big Boxes in Oneida much more valuable to their home community than they would be in Geneseo. As a city, Oneida has a very favorable sharing agreement with Madison County with respect to local sales tax dollars. The city keeps half of the 4 per cent that does not go to the state.

Those two pennies on every dollar of taxable sales adds up to a lot of pennies! Taking just the Lowes, it is reasonable to project upwards of $40 million a year in taxable sales. That totals $800,000 a year in taxes for the city.

In contrast, if a new Geneseo Lowes did the same sales, the Town of Geneseo could expect to get less than $10,000 a year in sales tax revenue. This is because Livingston County keeps 95 per cent of the local sales tax and the rest is shared with every other town and village in the county. Actually, the Town’s real number would be even lower, since a large part of the sales would represent transfers of sales that are already taking place in Livingston County.

This means that a Big Box in the City of Oneida is worth about 100 times more to the local government in sales tax than a Big Box in Geneseo. If we could get that kind of revenue sharing I might convert to being a Lowes booster overnight! Is it too late to incorporate the City of Geneseo?

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