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Lewis County legislators propose sales tax hike after all

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LOWVILLE — Six months after choosing not to seek a sales tax rate increase, Lewis County legislators on Tuesday decided to ask for state permission to do just that.

“I feel sales tax is probably the most fair tax, if there is a fair tax,” said Legislator Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham.

Legislators voted 8-0 to request state home rule legislation allowing an increase in the county sales tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4 percent. The tax is collected along with the state’s 4 percent tax.

Legislators Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, and Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, were absent.

Mr. Hathway in December floated the tax hike as a way to help the county deal with increases in pension costs and other state-mandated items, as well as help cover capital projects like the proposed office building on outer Stowe Street and an emergency radio system upgrade.

However, that measure ultimately failed by a 5-5 vote, with opponents citing concern that an increase in sales tax — projected to net $633,333 more in revenue than the $9.5 million budgeted for 2013 — would not be used to decrease property taxes but simply give more leeway for increased spending.

Six votes are needed for passage on the 10-member Legislature.

Legislator Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, said that while he opposed the measure back in December, he would support it if the increase were used to lessen the burden on property owners for radio upgrades.

“My doubt is that the Senate and Assembly will approve it,” said Legislator Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen, referring to past conversations with local state representatives and St. Lawrence County’s struggles in gaining such approval.

However, all eight lawmakers present ultimately decided that it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

“This isn’t your final vote on it,” said Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, noting local lawmakers could still nix it even if state approval was granted.

Lewis County in June 2004, following passage of state enabling legislation, enacted a local sales tax rate increase from 3 percent to 3.75 percent to help offset increases in Medicaid, retirement and health insurance costs. That hike was renewed in late 2005 and every two years thereafter, with the next expiration date set for Nov. 30.

Mr. Tabolt said he was reminded by staffers of both state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, of the need to request another extension through November 2015.

And he decided to introduce not only that resolution, which also passed by an 8-0 vote, but one seeking the additional hike, as well, to gauge the current feelings of lawmakers.

If approved, the increase to 4 percent would also end Nov. 30, 2015.

Legislators on Tuesday by 8-0 votes also approved the payment of up to $47,000 more to Bernier, Carr & Associates, Watertown, to revise the office building plans and a lease agreement with Lowville Commons LLC to rent space in the South State Street building at a first-year cost of $77,672.

Lawmakers in mid-March narrowly approved seeking bids on a two-story office building, but additional design work — including a switch from the original three-story plan — is needed first.

County officials plan to move the Office for the Aging and Board of Elections from the former St. Peter’s Catholic School into Lowville Commons by the end of June, since the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services is eyeing the old school for its alternative education program.

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