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Cuomo signs legislation enabling St. Lawrence County sales tax hike

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CANTON — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed home rule legislation Wednesday night that will allow St. Lawrence County to raise its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent.

Once the county Board of Legislators acts, that will bring the total sales tax, with the state’s 4 percent, to 8 percent, later this year.

Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington, said in a statement that he was grateful to the governor for his comments in Potsdam in February when he indicated he would sign legislation enabling a sales tax increase if it was requested by local officials and supported by the Legislature.

“He broke a legislative logjam,” Mr. Putney said. “Had he not made that statement, I think it would have been a more difficult path.”

After Gov. Cuomo’s comments, state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, softened their opposition and eventually supported the legislation. “That was a sea change,” Mr. Putney said. “Clearly, without Gov. Cuomo, we wouldn’t be able to enact our property tax plan.”

The state legislation gives the county the authority that nearly every other county in the state enjoys because most of them already have raised their sales tax beyond 3 percent, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, said in a release.

“When it comes to home rule requests from local government, state government should respect the needs and financial challenges they face,” said Mrs. Russell, who was the bill’s sponsor in the Assembly. “If the Board of Legislators enacts the increase, it should allow for more balanced revenue, providing relief to property tax payers.”

County legislators were prepared to meet as soon as possible to approve the increase in sales tax so it could begin collecting the additional revenue as of Dec. 1, but has some breathing room.

Typically, such legislation requires a 90-day notice, but the enacted home rule includes a special dispensation that the county may wait to act up to Nov. 1 and still be able to begin collection of the additional 1 percent starting Dec. 1, county attorney Michael C. Crowe said.

The month this year that the county can collect the additional sales tax could help fill its coffers by about $1 million of unexpected revenue.

The state Department of Taxation and Finance will provide the county with an appropriate resolution, which may not be in hand by Monday’s meeting of the board.

Even though the county has some additional time to act and still begin collection this year, it likely will approve legislation as soon as it is ready, Mr. Putney said.

“I don’t think we’re going to wait any longer than we have to,” he said.

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