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Senators tell St. Lawrence County to work on support from municipalities on sales tax increase

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The message from state senators to St. Lawrence County legislators in Albany seeking a sales tax increase on Thursday was to keep talking to towns and villages about their prospective distribution.

“The discussion was both candid and informative, and included a description of the county’s proposal to use its entire share of the sales tax increase to provide property tax relief for county residents,” according to a statement released by Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, on behalf of all the participants. “County leaders repeatedly assured the senators that the plan was realistic and workable, based on present assumptions.”

Mrs. Ritchie, along with Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, also encouraged county lawmakers to continue their dialog with municipal leaders to gain support.

Legislators want to increase the county sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, bringing the total — with the state’s 4 percent — to 8 percent. To persuade Mr. Griffo and Mrs. Ritchie, who have balked at supporting a tax increase, the county produced a five-year plan showing how it could drop property taxes if it received the additional sales tax.

The five-year scenario, now dubbed a tax reform plan, could reduce property taxes under certain assumptions, including that towns and villages receive 10 percent of the additional revenue.

Under a 2009 agreement with the city of Ogdensburg, the county keeps half of what it collects in sales tax and distributes what is left to towns and villages after the city takes its cut of 6.4 percent. Ogdensburg would not receive an increase in the percentage it receives under the county’s plan, but would gain more overall because more sales tax revenue would be collected.

The distribution to the towns and villages for the first 3 percent of local sales tax does not change under the county’s five-year plan.

Some town and village leaders think they should receive more than 10 percent of the additional revenue. State senators have asked for a united front.

“The senators and county leaders agreed to continue their discussions and work toward a solution to stabilize the county’s finances without adding to the burden already faced by county taxpayers,” Mrs. Ritchie’s statement said.

All of those present at the meeting agreed to have the statement represent their discussion.

In addition to the three senators, the meeting included County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire, Treasurer Kevin M. Felt and Legislators Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur.

Legislators will have a special meeting at 5:15 p.m. Monday to request home rule legislation that would allow them to raise the sales tax and to declare their intent is to use the new revenue to provide property tax relief.

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