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Sun., Oct. 4
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St. Lawrence County makes official sales tax request


CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators officially asked at a special meeting Monday for home rule legislation that would allow them to raise the local sales tax and pledged their intent to use the additional revenue for property tax relief.

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 gain the support of state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Utica, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the county developed a five-year plan showing how it could drop property taxes with the additional sales tax.

State senators had encouraged legislators to reach consensus with towns and villages on the use of additional sales tax, but unanimity may not be possible.

“We won’t get to bring everybody along,” Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said. “That’s the reality.”

The present distribution is for the county to keep half of what it collects in sales tax and allot what is left to towns and villages after the city of Ogdensburg takes a cut of 6.4 percent. Some town and village leaders want more than the 10 percent offered by the county of the additional revenue.

That would alter the property tax decrease proposed by the county, which would drop its levy 14.3 percent in the first year, and hold to an increase of 2 percent in the next four years.

“It falls apart very quickly if we give more of these funds away,” said Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction.

The state Comptroller’s Office — which is finalizing the results of a recent audit of the county’s books — is warning the plan may go too far in holding the line on taxes.

It will recommend the county develop a fund balance policy and questioned whether the plan will allow the county to replenish its fund balance — effectively at about $1.5 million — and stop its annual borrowing to deal with cash flow problems, Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Comptroller representatives who met Friday with Ms. St. Hilaire and Treasurer Kevin M. Felt were also concerned that deferment of the county’s capital needs — including repair of leaking roofs — would cost them more in the long run, she said.

If sales tax is increased, there is no guarantee it will go to reduce property taxes.

“I think it’s the intent of this board,” Mr. Morrill said. “There is nothing binding on future boards. There is nothing in the law that says the plan has to be followed.”

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