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Sun., Oct. 4
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Sales-tax figures could add to St. Lawrence County’s challenges


Third-quarter sales-tax figures brought a mixed bag of economic news to the north country.

In Jefferson and Lewis counties, local governments took in more in receipts than they had planned for and more than they took in during 2011. But in St. Lawrence County, revenue was slightly less than officials had hoped — an unwelcome statistic in the midst of the county’s fiscal crisis.

“It does” raise concern, St. Lawrence County Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said, “because we projected we would receive $42.1 million by the end of the year. This is a good example of how things can change.”

Third-quarter sales-tax receipts totaled $10,671,024.94, a decrease of about $25,000 from the same quarter of 2011.

Cumulative figures, however, are up from last year.

So far this year, St. Lawrence County has taken in $31,263,443.90, which is about $429,000 ahead of last year.

The fourth quarter tends to be the time when retail sales are up because of Christmas, so the county still could meet its goal.

“If people have confidence, we might see an increase,” Mr. Felt said.

After studying the figures more carefully, Mr. Felt said he may recommend the Board of Legislators revise its sales-tax projections for 2013, which are tentatively set at the same figure as this year. The tentative budget projects a property tax increase of 20 percent.

“If it’s a concern, then we may have to go to the board to decrease the projections for next year, which just adds to the problem,” Mr. Felt said. “Time will tell.”

The picture was rosier in Jefferson County, but one lawmaker still urged prudence given the challenges that 2013 could bring, especially the coming deployments of Fort Drum soldiers.

Jefferson County took in $9.9 million after distributing shares to the city and towns in July, August and September — an increase of roughly $1 million from the same quarter in 2011. Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, said that by the end of the year, the county will take in $1.4 million to $1.8 million more than it had planned.

The increase likely was stoked by the fact that most 10th Mountain Division soldiers were on post during that time, Mr. Gray said. Troop deployments in 2013 could cause those numbers to dip next year, he said.

“There will be no shortage of demand in the upcoming budget,” said Mr. Gray, who chairs the Finance and Rules Committee of the Board of Legislators.

He also noted that an audit had cautioned the county against dipping into its reserve fund too much more in the coming budget.

Meanwhile, Lewis County brought in about 0.88 percent, or $23,311, more than the $2,640,165 it received in the third quarter of 2011.

“I think the economy is up a little bit,” said county Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham.

While not yet ready to “jump up and down” about the economic prospects, Mr. Bush said any additional sales-tax revenues, no matter the size, are welcome.

The county so far this year has collected $7.44 million in sales-tax receipts, up from the $7.35 million collected through the first three quarters last year.

Barring a sharp drop in fourth-quarter receipts, Lewis County is on pace to at least meet last year’s receipt total of $9.8 million. It easily should cover the $9 million anticipated in the county’s 2012 budget, having already collected 82.7 percent of that amount with one quarter to go.

Any unbudgeted revenues, if not spent, would roll into the county’s fund balance at the end of the year.

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