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St. Lawrence County legislators work on sales tax proposal

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County lawmakers are working on a five-year plan for how they would use an increase in the local sales tax to reduce property taxes as a condition of support from state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, for enabling legislation.

Legislators have cried for several years that they want to raise the county’s share of the sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent to bring the total, with the state’s 4 percent tax, to 8 percent.

The demand became more pronounced as legislators adopted a 2013 budget that has a 14.4 percent tax levy increase. Constituents want reassurance that any increase, if allowed by state legislation, would decrease the burden on property owners, legislators said.

“When government has money, sometimes government likes to spend money,” said Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena. “I think the 1 percent should be used to reduce the property taxes.”

A majority of legislators approved Mr. Paquin’s suggestion on two sales tax-related resolutions the Finance Committee recommended Monday to include an explanation that the county is developing a plan to use extra sales tax revenue to reduce the levy. Both resolutions address legislation that could be introduced in Albany that would allow the county to exercise a home-rule option to increase the sales tax.

The first refers to a bill that would allow counties to increase their sales tax up to 4 percent without petitioning the state for authorization and would provide counties that have already increased their sales tax with the ability to maintain their percentages without having to petition the state again every two years.

The New York State Association of Counties believes the bill stands a good chance to pass because 52 counties have to be reauthorized next year, said Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire.

Another resolution the committee recommended requests home-rule legislation specific to St. Lawrence County.

Mrs. Ritchie’s staff outlined the property-tax reduction requirement as a prerequisite for her support, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

A subcommittee of legislators is drawing up a draft plan on how the potential sales tax increase might be used, including rebuilding the fund balance, repairing leaky roofs, buying equipment for the Highway Department and determining potential shares for other municipalities, along with a property tax reduction.

“You can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” said Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Morristown.

Committee members tabled a request for home-rule legislation to increase the bed tax on hotels and motels from 3 percent to 5 percent until the sales tax increase outcome is known.

“It becomes overkill,” Mr. Paquin said.

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