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Sales tax hike a cliffhanger

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County officials anxiously waited Thursday for word on whether the state Senate will approve home rule legislation that would allow them to raise the sales tax.

The session was supposed to end Thursday but the Legislature could extend its time if it wants, said Sarah V. Compo, spokeswoman for state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, primary sponsor of the legislation for St. Lawrence County.

“Nothing’s changed,” Ms. Compo said. “The last status is she’s working on it and it’s still in committee.”

The legislation passed the Assembly in a close vote June 13.

Although county lawmakers have requested for three years legislation that would allow them to hike sales tax from 3 to 4 percent — bringing the total with the state’s 4 percent — to 8 percent, state Republican leaders long argued there was little appetite to raise any kind of taxes and that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, would not sign such a law.

The attitude softened when Gov. Cuomo earlier this year signalled he would rely on the wisdom of the locality when it came to sales tax increases. The county drew up a five-year plan on how it could reduce the property tax levy — which rose 14.4 percent this year — by a comparable amount next year with the additional revenue and keep property taxes relatively stable in the outgoing years.

Lewis County also asked state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, for legislation to allow a hike in its sales tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4 percent. The status of that legislation was unavailable.

Even while the Legislature has approved sales tax extenders for many counties, an increase of any kind remains unpopular.

Despite the reluctance to raise taxes, St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said the New York State Association of Counties believes the votes may be on the county’s side.

County Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said the fight for a sales tax hike is frustrating as the county developed a strategic spending plan, something no other county that already receives more sales tax than St. Lawrence has been required to do.

“To be turned down, it doesn’t quite seem fair,” he said. “We’ll know soon enough.”

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