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Sales tax receipts up in Lewis County, troublesome in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties

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CANTON - Sales tax receipts for the first quarter of 2014 were a mixed bag in St. Lawrence, Lewis and Jefferson counties.

They were unreservedly up in Lewis County, taking into account both a one-quarter percentage point hike in the sales tax that took effect Dec. 1 and an increase in sales.

In St. Lawrence County, revenue was up 29.51 percent over last year because of an increase in the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent, but sales overall compared to the same period last year took a dip.

In Jefferson County, sales tax continued a downward trajectory.

In Lewis County, sales tax was up $364,231 over the same period last year.

“Sales themselves are up as well, over $5 million from this quarter last year,” Treasurer Patricia O’Brien said.

Mrs. O’Brien couldn’t attribute the $5,740,000 increase in sales to any one thing, but did note when fuel prices are up, so are tax receipts.

The snowy, cold winter probably had something to do with the figures.

“On the plus side, the snowmobiling opportunities had to be enhanced compared to previous years, thereby producing more revenue,” Lewis County Ways and Means Committee Chairman Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, said in an email. “The minus side is that due to the extreme winter we had, our residents no doubt spent more on heating and at higher prices causing a bump in sales tax revenues.”

In St. Lawrence County, sales tax receipts for January through March were up $3,034,279 over the same period in 2013.

However, if comparing apples to apples, the total at the 3 percent rate the county had previously shows a dip of 2.87 percent, Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said.

Mr. Felt was unsure if the harsh winter kept people from traveling and buying, if the increase in the sales tax kept consumer spending down, or if there was some other reason for the dip. The trend in recent quarters has been for increases, he said.

“It’s hard to predict,” Mr. Felt said.

Jefferson County is projecting a $1.5 million budget shortfall at the end of the year due to a disappointing first quarter take, which saw collections drop off 2.68 percent compared to last year.

County officials will be nervously watching the next three quarters to see if the county’s sales tax collection recovers.

Otherwise, the county could be facing the difficult prospect of either cutting services or raising taxes, according to Jefferson County Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Chairman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown.

“We’re headed for some tough decisions,” Mr. Gray said.

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