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Oswegatchie board talks sales tax hike

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HEUVELTON - The Oswegatchie Town Board is holding off on endorsing St. Lawrence County’s push to raise its sales tax to generate more revenues.

Meeting here Monday, the board decided to wait another month before saying yes or no to the proposal.

“We want to hear what the other towns (in the county) have to say,” said Town Supervisor Alfred (Bud) Nichols.

The county is pursuing the authorization of home rule legislation to raise its sales and compensating use tax from 7 percent to 8 percent, allowing 4 percent instead of 3 percent to remain in the county.

Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, sent a letter to the town Jan. 21 to explain the county’s rationale for wanting the increase. But he stopped short of asking for the board’s support.

Under the current distribution formula at 3 percent, the town annually collects $691,498.71. At 4 percent, the total would rise to $741,004.79, an increase of $49,506.08.

Last week during an appearance in Potsdam, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he supported the raise so long as it was requested by the county and supported by the state Legislature. But it has been blocked at the state level by lawmakers who refuse to sponsor the proposal in the Senate.

To help bolster its case, the county has prepared a five-year plan showing how it could reduce property taxes if it had a sales tax of 4 percent. With a sales tax hike, officials say, the tax levy could drop 14.3 percent in 2014.

But Mr. Nichols is unsure of the county’s accountability in the proposal and whether the 2013-2018 projections will hold.

“How do you know?” he asked. “We might never see that money.”

An increase in the sales tax, supporters say, could also help rebuild the county’s fund balance - now around 1 percent of the total budget - back up to 3 percent.

That is still below the recommendation of the state comptroller’s office.

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