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Sun., Oct. 4
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Legislators worry about sales tax


CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators are worried that they will be out more than $3 million this year if state legislation is not approved this month.

Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, has introduced home rule legislation that would allow the county to raise its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent. That would mean a total sales tax — including the state’s 4 percent — of 8 percent. But the legislation lacks a companion bill in the Senate, which was blocked by the Assembly to include across-the-board sales tax increases up to 4 percent in the state budget.

County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire told county legislators at a meeting Monday that state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, did not think the home rule legislation will be introduced this month, which would mean the county would lose more than $3 million this year because of reporting requirements necessary before collection can begin. If legislation passed in June, the county could see extra sales tax revenue for one month of the year.

“He’s concerned about it actually going through at all because the votes may not be there,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

Mr. Griffo also told Ms. St. Hilaire he did not support the county’s five-year plan to cut property taxes 14 percent the first year if it receives the additional sales tax. Instead, Mr. Griffo said he thinks the county should drop the 14 percent property tax increase it imposed for 2013 as a staggered decrease over several years to provide more flexibility.

The 14 percent drop in the first year of the plan was done at the behest of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur.

“We’ve done everything they wanted us to do,” Mr. Peck said. “For them to cop out now, we still have to get this thing done.”

Legislators met with Mr. Griffo last year to discuss the increase but he deferred sponsorship of the legislation at the time to Mrs. Ritchie as the county’s home senator, said Legislator Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk.

“We took that to heart,” she said. “We did what our home county senator asked.”

The problem may be that it does not matter if the five-year plan decreases property taxes 14 percent in the first year or in phases, but how the county handles what money it has, said Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon.

Mr. Akins noted that the county hired Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, as a lobbyist and is considering having the law firm pursue litigation over the withholding of payments related to the gaming compact between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Legislators tabled a resolution on the matter after an executive session, saying they wanted the wording reviewed.

The proposed lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money that may concern senators, Mr. Akins said.

“We’re not using it prudently, at least in my opinion,” he said. “Do they trust us to do what we say we’re going to do? Do we have a working relationship?”

Legislators spent the last seven years spending down a $20 million fund balance to nothing and need to look at cutting spending, said Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid.

The fund balance was used to keep property taxes low, said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction.

“To say it was spent is not the correct terminology,” he said. “I think we’re doing our very best trying to keep people in their houses.”

Mr. Peck said he has not heard any resolutions for savings coming from Republicans who wanted to reduce this year’s budget, but Mr. Akins said there has been support for changing the public bus system, eliminating the Certified Home Health Agency and, more recently, agreeing to a request for proposals for a vendor to manage the Highway Department’s procurement of parts.

“If you think we’re going to get out of this in one year, you’re sadly mistaken,” Mr. Akins said. “We have to be constantly vigilant on every dollar we spend.”

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