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State lawmakers approve Lewis sales tax hike request

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LOWVILLE — State lawmakers have granted Lewis County’s request for an increase in the local sales tax rate.

“It’s not to spend more money,” said county Legislature Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan. “It’s to attain some of these things we think we absolutely need, like the radio project.”

The state Senate and Assembly on Friday both authorized an increase in the county sales tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4 percent, effective Dec. 1. The tax is collected on applicable sales along with the state’s 4 percent tax.

The measure still must be approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo before county legislators may enact the proposed rate hike, which would run through Nov. 30, 2015.

Mr. Tabolt said allocation of the additional revenues — projected at $633,333 more than the $9.5 million budgeted for 2013 — will be “up for discussion” prior to another county vote.

“That’s going to have to be established before any of the legislators even consider acting on it,” he said.

The chairman said he has viewed the proposal as a way to offset increases in pension costs and other state-mandated items without adding to the property tax burden. However, when lawmakers in May decided to request the sales tax rate increase, many indicated they were supporting it as a way to help fund the county’s ongoing emergency radio system upgrade project.

Some lawmakers since then have suggested that having the extra sales tax revenues may be the only way to move forward with both the radio project and a proposed office building on outer Stowe Street without overburdening property taxpayers.

A sales tax increase proposal in December failed by a 5-5 vote, with opponents citing concern that an increase in sales tax would not be used to decrease property taxes but simply give more leeway for increased spending.

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

In May, 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 two-year extension for a prior rate hike — first enacted in 2004 — from 3 percent to 3.75 percent. And he decided to introduce not only that resolution, but one seeking the additional hike as well.

Despite their unanimous approval of the increase, lawmakers at the time indicated they were less than optimistic about getting state approval for the measure, given prior comments by local state representatives and their staff members about anti-tax-hike sentiment in Albany.

“They had told us it had little chance of going anywhere,” Mr. Tabolt said.

So, the chairman admitted he was a bit surprised when he learned of the home rule legislation passage from both Mr. Griffo’s office and the New York State Association of Towns.

It appears that lobbying efforts by other counties, including St. Lawrence County, for their own sales tax hikes may have led state lawmakers to essentially support them across the board, Mr. Tabolt said.

“We kind of rode the wave, you could say,” he said.

St. Lawrence County has long sought to increase its share of the tax from 3 to 4 percent, with the intent of improving its fiscal situation while dropping property taxes.

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