WADDINGTON – The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators can count on the town of Waddingtons support as it pursues the authorization of home rule legislation to raise its sales tax.
Legislators requested a special meeting with Waddington Town Council Tuesday, fearing that, without the towns support, the countys plan to raise its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent would become a dead issue, Legislator Vernon D. Sam Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said.
You alone in Waddington can effectively stop this, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said. You have an enormous amount of power right here.
According to Mr. Morrill, Waddington is also a key factor in securing state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchies support for the sales tax increase.
Ill tell you what I think from having the meeting with Patty, Mr. Morrill said. If you, the collective you, say this isnt fair or we dont want it. We wont get it.
Mrs. Ritchie was not available to confirm Mr. Morrills comments late Tuesday.
Concern arose when the Town Council initially opted not to vote on the plan in February. But after discussing their concerns with the legislators Tuesday, the council voted 4-1 in favor of the countys 1 percent sales tax increase.
I dont want vote in favor of it, but I will, Councilor David Putney said after he questioned whether the county has fought hard enough to garner more state funding for state mandated programs such as Medicaid.
County legislators said state funding for state mandated programs are beyond their control, and the major cause for a decline in countys fund balance.
A county like St. Lawrence County is more affected by these mandates than richer counties, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill said. Richer counties get more in property values and their incomes are higher, so there are not as many people collecting Medicaid. We are affected on both ends. We have less income, less property value and more Medicaid. We really get hammered.
At the urging of the council members, legislators agreed to work harder to increase the percentage of state funding for state mandated programs in the future.
Town Supervisor Mark Scott, who has been critical of the plan since its introduction, was the only member of the council to vote down the resolution.
I am not opposed to it philosophically, Mr. Scott said. Its that the numbers dont add up. When you look at it long-term, its not a sustainable solution. The only sustainable solution other than raising property taxes is that youre going to have to cut more.
He suggested that each county department cut 6 percent from each departments budget.
Mr. Scott was also critical of countys proposal to redistribute 10 percent of the sales tax revenue back to the towns and villages. He said there were no discussions with town supervisors or mayors over the amount that they would receive.
We cant afford to do a 50/50, Mr. Morrill said. We need to pay these bills. And, unfortunately, if we dont do this, property taxes go up for every single resident in St. Lawrence County for the next five years. I am not in favor of that. I want to see property taxes go down. We decided to share something instead of nothing.
We decided to share something instead of nothing, Board of Legislators Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said.
But after receiving 10 percent of the sales tax revenue, Mr. Morrill said villages and towns can choose to redistribute those funds back to taxpayers or use it to fund municipal projects.
What you choose to do with the money is up to you, Mr. Morrill said.
Pleased with the Waddingtons show of support, Mr. Jonathan S. Putney said he and fellow legislators will mention the towns support when they meet again with representatives in Albany.