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Sales tax revenue rises for Lewis and St. Lawrence counties, drops for Jefferson

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Sales tax collections were up for both Lewis and St. Lawrence counties in the second quarter of 2013, while Jefferson County experienced a significant dip in revenue.

Down by nearly 2 percentage points compared with the same period last year, Jefferson County is projecting a budget shortfall of $538,226 to $817,328 by the year’s end, according to Scott A. Gray, chairman of the Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee.

“We would have to gain tremendous ground in order to have any increase and we would consider ourselves fortunate if we even make budget this year,” Mr. Gray said in an email to legislators.

The quarter started out well enough, with $2.5 million collected in April, 6 percent more than last year, and $2.7 million collected in May, 12 percent more than 2012.

But the county collected only $3,151,020 in sales tax revenue in June, a startling 20.72 percent less than in 2012.

For 2013 thus far, the county has collected $15,992,996 — 1.94 percent less than last year.

In November, the county halved a proposed 4.4 increase in its tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — in part by increasing the prediction for how much money the county would take in from sales tax in 2013.

Now that calculus has changed.

“Last year might have been an anomaly,” Mr. Gray said. “We have to recalibrate ourselves for budgeting purposes. It’s going to be even more difficult to hold the line on property tax for the upcoming budget cycle. Sales tax as a source of increasing revenue is not workable.”

There was a ray of light, however, as Mr. Gray pointed out that though the county was experiencing a dip in sales tax revenue this year, it still was collecting more than it had in all years before 2012.

The numbers told a different story in St. Lawrence County where, before they were split among local municipalities, quarterly receipts showed an increase of 3.22 percent or $337,785.71 over the same period last year.

For the year so far, the county showed a gain of 2.55 percent, or $525,444.24, over last year.

“Excellent,” County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said. “We are delighted to see sales tax is up because it means increased economic activity in St. Lawrence County. Whenever there’s an increase in sales tax, it’s a good sign.”

Ms. St. Hilaire said she thought the increase could be attributed to increased visits to the county by Canadians and others and a general sign of improving business activity.

“It’s a sign we’re rebounding from the 2008 recession,” she said.

At $21,117,863.20 for 2013 collected so far — which the county shares with towns, villages and the city of Ogdensburg — the amount of sales tax the county will receive is about half of the $21,050,000 it budgeted for the year.

“We’re about $50,000 up, which is always good,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “I’m very happy with that.”

In Lewis County, quarterly receipts showed an increase of 3.38 percent or $84,853.51 over the same period last year. For the year so far, the county showed a gain of 4.55 percent, or $217,436.54, over last year.

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