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Griffo supports sales tax “home rule” legislation

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By BRIAN HAYDEN

MASSENA - Sen. Joseph A. Griffo supports an effort to increase the county sales tax, but only if voters approve it too.

Mr. Griffo supports legislation allowing a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent, subject to a mandatory referendum. The county portion of the sales tax is 3 percent; the proposal is to raise it to 4 percent.

Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, opposes an increase in the tax. But Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell (D-Theresa) also supports the idea of “home rule” legislation.

Allowing St. Lawrence County voters the right to decide has the greatest chance of succeeding in Albany, Mr. Griffo said.

“I’ve always said ... we have to be realistic in what we want to accomplish,” he said.

The 1 percent increase would raise $13 million to $14 million annually but could not come in time to solve the county’s 2013 budget crisis. However, it eventually would allow the county, which likely would keep the total increase for a time before any distribution of the new revenue to towns and villages, to make equipment purchases it has put off, repair buildings and rebuild its fund balance, which could fall below $2 million by year’s end. This year’s county budget gap is $9.3 million.

It is too late to put a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot, which means the county would have to hold a special election at an estimated cost of $150,000. The sales tax increase has the support of the county supervisor’s association.

Mr. Griffo said that he is still opposed to increasing the sales tax without requiring a county wide referendum. Such a bill would not receive necessary support in the legislature or from the governor and is “doomed to fail,” he said.

“That’s more like posturing rather than trying to do something,” Mr. Griffo said during a visit to Massena this week. “Just because (Ms. Ritchie) and I sponsor a bill doesn’t mean it will gain support.”

Mr. Griffo said he would like to see the county adopt a long-term plan for financial recovery and develop more options than just raising the county sales tax by 1 percent or property taxes by 20 percent.

“That’s like asking somebody, ‘I’m going to hit you. Do you want it in the stomach or the chest?’” he said.

When he was Oneida County executive, he said he presented 10 different options for cutting costs and raising revenues during a difficult budget year.

“You’ve got to re-define government. You’ve got to restructure government right now,” he said.

In turn, Mr. Griffo promised to advocate for more state assistance to struggling municipalities. The state should be evaluating struggling towns and counties on a case by case basis and determining if their woes are caused by mandated costs or are self-imposed.

Relief could then be provided to municiaplities whose financial problems are caused by the state, Mr. Griffo said. If the problems lie with the municipalities, the state should consider advisory or super control boards.

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