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St. Lawrence County sales tax increase is the wrong approach

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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following editorial appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the Watertown Daily Times. A similar position has been taken by The Journal and Advance-News. St. Lawrence County Legislature Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, issued a response to the following in a letter appearing in today’s edition.

Every St. Lawrence County resident is closer to paying a 33 percent tax increase after Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell convinced a slim majority of the Democratic state Assembly to approve an increase in the county’s sales tax rate. The message here is simple. The poorest people in St. Lawrence County are being told that it is in their best interests to pay more for about everything they buy in order to protect the more well-to-do who own houses from paying higher property taxes. Or perhaps the message is that protecting a government workforce whose wages and benefits exceed what most county residents would hope to ever earn is so important that a tax increase that hurts the poorest members of society needs to rise 33 percent.

The chairman of the county Legislature, Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, expressed pleasure that the legislation passed, describing himself as excited that taxes could go up a third. Now it apparently is up to the county’s paid lobbyist-lawyers to push the tax increase through the Senate.

St. Lawrence is suffering like few other counties in upstate New York. Its unemployment rate is 9.8 percent. A decision in Albany is imminent on whether to keep the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Ogdensburg open. The Potsdam and Canton units of the state university are in the midst of administrative change.

There is positive news. Alcoa continues to invest in its east plant. The New York Power Authority has agreed to spend $3.8 million to relocate an electric transmission line to the east plant. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has settled the outstanding gambling issues with the St. Regis Mohawks and north country governments will finally see some of the money owed them from casino operations.

However, these factors benefit only a small portion of the workforce. There are so many other St. Lawrence County families who depend upon low-paying jobs with little stability. Or worse have to accept public help. Job creation has been nearly non-existent. Many ideas which provide hope for a better job are efforts at revisiting the more economically vibrant past — more mining jobs, more prison jobs, more jobs at Alcoa.

All these jobs are very important and worth defending vigorously. The organized effort to save the Psychiatric Center is critical. The loss of more than 500 jobs would be devastating. Closure of a prison is frightening. Consolidation of the SUNY units at Canton and Potsdam concerning.

But the county needs more than a never-ending fight to keep government jobs in a time when the pressure to reduce the size of state government is intense.

The county needs to embrace the governor’s tax-free incubator project at the state university and to make a strong case to include surplus land and buildings at the Psychiatric Center as part of the development zone.

The county must find ways to increase private-sector jobs by leveraging its dairy industry, capturing more tourism business and attracting Canadian manufacturers looking for an outlet in the United States.

Gleeful enthusiasm over increasing the most regressive tax in the county by 33 percent sends a terrible message and delays growth that will put residents back to work earning decent and steady paychecks.

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