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St. Lawrence County towns, villages agree on sales tax hike

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POTSDAM — Members of the mayors association and supervisors association of St. Lawrence County agreed Thursday to support the county’s push to raise its sales tax and accept the 1 percent distribution on the additional revenue they were offered, providing the consensus urged by state lawmakers.

The resolution, which passed 17-2 in a joint meeting at the Potsdam Civic Center, also “strongly encourages” the county to renegotiate at a later unspecified date the percentage allotted to towns and villages.

“This does give us a statement that articulates our position,” said Marie C. Regan, town of Potsdam supervisor.

Madrid and Hopkinton gave the “nay” votes on the instruction of their respective boards.

“There’s no faith in the five-year plan,” said Joseph A. Finnegan, town of Madrid supervisor. “It’s obviously a political ploy.”

St. Lawrence County wants to increase its local sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, bringing the total — with the state’s 4 percent — to 8 percent.

The five-year plan the county developed demonstrates how it would lower property taxes by 14.3 percent in the first year and hold the annual tax levy increase in the other years to the state’s 2 percent cap.

Included in the plan was a 10 percent distribution of the additional sales tax to towns and villages, some of which were unhappy because their current allotment is greater.

Under the current distribution, the county keeps half of what it collects and gives the rest to towns and villages after the city of Ogdensburg takes a 6.4 percent cut.

If the state Legislature agrees to the sales tax increase — possibly through passage of the state budget but more likely through stand-alone legislation — the drop in property taxes could benefit county legislators’s re-election campaigns in 2014.

That timing could also help towns and villages in their quest for a greater percentage of the additional sales tax revenue.

“The only hammer I believe we have is their re-election,” said town of Massena Supervisor Joseph D. Gray. “I think we should force the revisiting of that.”

Village and town leaders prefer that the sales tax increase have to face renewal every two years by the state Legislature as another way they might renegotiate sales tax distribution.

If the sales tax increase comes through budget passage and does not require periodic renewal, the county will have no incentive in the future to seek its municipalities’ support, they said.

Their time may also come when the agreement between the city of Ogdensburg and the county — which includes the distribution formula for towns and villages — expires.

“This really isn’t forever because in six years, they have to renegotiate with the city,” said Ogdensburg Mayor William D. Nelson.

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