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St. Lawrence County, Ogdensburg officials to discuss tax plan

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OGDENSBURG — County legislators are coming to the city this week to discuss a plan that would restore the fund balance and reduce property taxes.

If state legislators approve home rule legislation, St. Lawrence County would be able to raise its sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent; under the current plan, the city would be asked to keep its current 6.4 percent share of the sales tax receipts.

“If the county raises its sales tax, it looks like they’ll be able to lower property taxes within two years,” City Councilor Daniel E. Skamperle said. “That is the important thing, to be able to lower property taxes. We would like to do that in Ogdensburg, along with streamlining some of our agencies.”

The proposal already has gained support from the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.

County legislators will be in Ogdensburg on Thursday night to discuss that proposal and to lobby the City Council to support home rule legislation that would permit the county tax rate hike.

With a sales tax increase — and if the city agreed to its current share and the towns and villages received 10 percent of the increase — the county tax levy could drop 14.3 percent in 2014. The 2013 county tax levy increase was 14.4 percent.

Under a 2009 agreement with the city, the county keeps half of what it collects in sales tax and distributes what is left to towns and villages after the city takes its cut. The county is proposing to change the percentage distributed to towns and villages, but only of the proposed sales tax increase.

Legislators will present resolutions supporting home rule and the sales tax increase, Mr. Skamperle said.

“It looks like basic resolutions supporting home rule in terms of being able to raise the sales tax. Another is a state resolution allowing home rule,” he said.

For some council members, any plan that would increase Ogdensburg’s revenue and alleviate the tax burden on property owners is welcome.

“This might be a blessing in disguise for the city,” Councilor Wayne L. Ashley said. “As far as I’m concerned, the agreement will still have to stay the same as it is. I won’t support anything that is going to jeopardize our percentage of the sales tax.”

Mr. Ashley said that based on previous years’ estimates, if Ogdensburg’s percentage stayed the same, it could reap more than $750,000 in additional sales tax revenues, enabling it to reduce its property tax levy 16.3 percent from a 2013 level of $4,604,457.

Mr. Skamperle said his support was contingent on Ogdensburg being able to maintain or increase its percentage of receipts.

“I certainly don’t want to take a cut,” he said. “I would only agree to it if the city would get its share.”

However, Councilor William D. Hosmer said the proposal does not go far enough to cut costs and lower property taxes.

“The plan I am looking at puts us back in the same spot in five years,” he said. “I don’t see any cuts; I just see ways to spend that money that we’re getting. I don’t support the sales tax increase plan that I have in front of me.”

The council could consider the measures at its meeting next week.

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