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Ogdensburg council signals support for county sales tax plan changes

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OGDENSBURG — Proposed changes to St. Lawrence County’s five-year financial plan has the verbal support of some city leaders.

City Council members discussed the county’s plan to use a 1 percentage point sales tax increase for further reductions in property taxes at Monday night’s council meeting.

“It looks like they’re looking to reduce the property tax even further,” Mayor William D. Nelson said. “I think these are the kind of changes we can support.”

The county Board of Legislators wants to increase its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, bringing the total — with the state’s 4 percent — to 8 percent. To improve its argument before state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the county prepared a plan showing how it could stabilize property taxes with the additional revenue.

The first year of the plan called for a potential property tax decrease of 14.3 percent. For 2013, county lawmakers approved a tax levy increase of 14.4 percent, so the proposal would cut taxes to where they were last year. However, the plan in subsequent years calls for modest tax levy increases.

The plan was sent back to the drawing board after Mrs. Ritchie argued it did not lower property taxes enough.

City Manager John M. Pinkerton said any alterations to the plan would not affect the percentage of tax Ogdensburg receives.

“It holds the city the same if and when the sales tax increases,” he said. “Our portion remains fixed.”

Under a 2009 agreement with the city of Ogdensburg, 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 of 6.4 percent. Ogdensburg would not receive an increase in the percentage it receives under the county’s plan, but the city would take in more money overall because more sales tax revenue would be collected.

Ogdensburg’s council supported the original five-year plan after meeting with county legislators in January. Mr. Nelson said the proposed changes would not require a new resolution of support.

“Basically, what they were looking for was consensus,” he said. “It wasn’t a legally binding contract.”

Councilor William D. Hosmer, an opponent of the sales tax increase, remained skeptical.

“This will be the fourth plan they have submitted,” he said. “Hopefully, this time they’ll finally reduce the property taxes.”

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