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St. Lawrence County raises sales tax

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday overwhelmingly approved raising the local sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, then argued over whether to keep Wladis Law Firm — which some lawmakers believe was instrumental in achieving the goal — as its lobbyist.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the home rule legislation into law earlier this month allowing the county to act. Legislators were waiting for a resolution provided by the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

The vote at the special meeting was 13 in favor. Legislators Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, and Jim A. Bunstone, D-Potsdam, were absent.

There have been so many changes over the years to laws related to sales tax that state officials recommended the county repeal its 1967 resolution imposing a sales tax and re-enact it in a way that has the effect of an amendment, county attorney Michael C. Crowe said. The resolution references a distribution agreement the county has with Ogdensburg that the city recently signed but which has not yet been approved by the state comptroller’s office. However, the language in the agreement is similar to how the county has handled sales tax with the city for the last 13 years.

“It’s unlikely there would be any difficulty,” Mr. Crowe said.

The additional sales tax goes into effect Dec. 1. The total — with the state’s 4 percent — will be 8 percent.

After the special meeting, legislators in a subsequent committee session decided by a vote of 9-4 to keep Wladis as the county’s lobbyist. The Syracuse firm is paid $5,000 per month.

The firm helped the county attain the sales tax legislation, which will sweep in a 14 percent property tax reduction next year, said legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, told Mr. Putney that he should stop championing the sales tax increase as a benefit when the amount of the prospective tax decrease is the equivalent of a property tax increase approved in 2012.

“You must think the people are stupid,” Mr. Acres said.

The point is that property owners would see heftier tax increases without the hike in sales tax and the work of Wladis, Mr. Putney said.

It was not the efforts of Wladis that gave the county its long-sought sales tax increase, but the support of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who insisted on a fiscal plan that spells out how the money will be used, Mr. Acres said.

Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, said the county was successful in being able to raise its sales tax only after Wladis became its lobbyist.

“Shortly after hiring them, we got the sales tax,” he said. “I hope there are more coincidences like that.”

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