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Sales tax increase held up

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CANTON — An increase in the local sales tax for St. Lawrence County is in limbo following its failure to win support as part of the passage of the state budget.

State Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, pushed for a measure as part of the budget that would have eliminated the need for periodic legislative approval of renewals for counties that have raised their tax rates. It also would have removed a requirement for state legislative approval of an increase to up to 4 percent for those counties whose rate is less than that.

“The Assembly balked on it,” said Rayan A. Aguam, a spokesman for Mr. Griffo. “We’ll have to see if there were specific issues they had with the language.”

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, but has run into a series of stumbling blocks. It recently developed a five-year plan to show how it could use the additional revenue to reduce property taxes. The county won over the grudging support of village mayors and town supervisors, who recognize the county needs the money but want more than the 10 percent distribution of the additional revenue designated to their municipalities in the plan.

“We’ve done everything we were asked to do,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, the chief architect of the plan.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said she stands ready to introduce home rule legislation that would allow St. Lawrence County to raise its sales tax, as she has done in the past without backing for a similar Senate bill.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to take it up as home rule,” she said. “It’s not a question of it not having support in the Assembly. I believe St. Lawrence County has met their burden.”

Mrs. Russell said she could not say the same about support for more sweeping legislation that would change the way the state handles sales tax extensions so that they become more automatic.

“I’m not sure that’s something that would pass in the Assembly,” she said. “We need oversight on these issues. I feel it’s important for there to be an open discussion.”

Mr. Griffo is interested in more comprehensive parity when it comes to sales tax increases and renewals, Mr. Aguam said.

“We don’t want to do just one county,” he said. “We’ll have to see what we want to do.”

State Sen. Elizabeth O’C. Little, R-Queensbury, plans to discuss with Mr. Griffo and state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, how they should proceed, her spokesman, Daniel E. MacEntee, said.

“She will talk with them about it as well as the locals who have already contacted her,” he said.

Mrs. Little also represents Essex County, which wants to increase its sales tax from 3.75 to 4 percent. She no longer represents Hamilton County, which also had wanted to increase its sales tax.

In an emailed statement, Sarah V. Compo, spokeswoman for Mrs. Ritchie, said the senator would work with the county on tax relief and improving the health of its finances.

“As for next steps, the senator expects to continue discussions with county leaders and her colleagues in Albany regarding the issue,” Ms. Compo wrote.

Even if the county were able to raise its sales tax soon, it might be six months before it received any additional money, county Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said.

“By the time we start seeing it, it would be the end of the year,” he said.

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