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Sun., Nov. 23
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St. Lawrence County legislators work on sales tax proposal

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County lawmakers are working on a five-year plan on how they would use an increase in the local sales tax to reduce property taxes as a condition of support from state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, for enabling legislation.

Legislators have cried for several years that they want to raise the sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent, to bring the total with the state’s 4 percent tax to 8 percent.

The demand became more pronounced as legislators adopted a budget for 2013 that has a 14.4 percent increase in the tax levy. Constituents want reassurance that any increase, if allowed by state legislation, would decrease the burden on property owners, legislators said.

“When government has money, sometimes government likes to spend money,” Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, said. “I think the 1 percent should be used to reduce the property taxes.”

A majority of legislators approved Mr. Paquin’s suggestion on two sales tax-related resolutions adopted by the Finance Committee Monday to include that the county is developing a plan to use extra sales tax to reduce the levy. Both resolutions address legislation that could be introduced in Albany that would allow the county to exercise a home rule option to increase the sales tax.

The first refers to a bill that would allow counties to increase their sales tax up to 4 percent without petitioning the state for authorization and would provide counties which have already increased their sales tax the ability to maintain their percentages without having to petition the state again every two years.

The New York State Association of Counties believes the bill stands a good chance of passage because 52 counties next year have to be reauthorized, Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

The second resolution approved by the committee requests home rule legislation specific to St. Lawrence County.

The requirement of reducing property taxes was outlined by Mrs. Ritchie’s staff as a prerequisite for her support, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

A subcommittee of legislators is drawing up a draft plan on how the potential sales tax increase might be used, including rebuilding the fund balance, repairing leaky roofs, buying equipment for the Highway Department, and determining potential shares for other municipalities, along with property tax reduction.

“You can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Morristown, said.

A resolution on a request for home rule legislation to increase the bed tax on hotels and motels from 3 percent to 5 percent was tabled until the outcome of the sales tax increase is known.

“It becomes overkill,” Mr. Paquin said.

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