St. Lawrence County already fulfills some of Sen. Griffo's requirements for support of sales tax increase, legislators say
Thursday, February 14, 2013 - 5:40 pm

The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators indicates it has already fulfilled some of the things that Sen. Joe Griffo has made a condition of his support of the sales tax increase the county wants.

Griffo, a Republican from Rome who represents 10 St. Lawrence County townships that are part of his 47th District, today set forth some conditions he would like to see before he is fully persuaded to change his mind and support the proposed one percent hike in the county’s sales tax rate.

In a message to the county board earlier today, Griffo said he is “willing to continue a dialogue with the county and the people so that the right solution can be developed and implemented as well as addressing certain concerns.”

Those concerns include continuing increases in county property taxes – which the county refutes – and the need for “a well developed, realistic plan ensuring that the people of the county are receiving property tax relief.”

He also wants “a full audit by the state Comptroller’s Office...to develop an accurate representation of the county’s finances.”

He also said he wanted to see a show of unity among the county’s municipalities for an increase.

“We are pleased to see that Senator Griffo has softened his stance against raising the sales tax for St. Lawrence County,” the statement this afternoon from the county board office in Canton said.

“This increase, if approved, will allow the county to reduce the property tax for county residents by 14.3% in 2014 - the same amount that it was increased this year.”

The statement also notes that the board has a five-year stabilization plan with a provision to increase the current two-percent fund balance, which County Treasurer Kevin Felt recently called “dangerously low,” to 10 percent in five years.

“While St. Lawrence County has trimmed its budget by over $13 million over the past four years, including a reduction of 150 positions or 15% of our workforce, we remain unable to meet the growing costs of state mandates without the 1% sales increase,” the county board statement said, and went on to outline many of those cuts. “

We are hopeful that our state representatives will approve home rule legislation for sales tax, which will finally provide St. Lawrence County the same tools as 57 other counties in the state. St. Lawrence is one of only five counties that remains at a 3% local sales tax while most are at 4%. The extra 1% equals approximately $14 million per year and will alleviate the need for excessive property tax increases” the statement said.

The complete statement from the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators this afternoon follows:

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St. Lawrence County’s Response to Senator Griffo’s Press Release:

We are pleased to see that Senator Griffo has softened his stance against raising the sales tax for St. Lawrence County. This increase, if approved, will allow the county to reduce the property tax for county residents by 14.3% in 2014 - the same amount that it was increased this year. We will remain under the Governor’s property tax cap - the amount devised by the governor’s staff to account for normal inflationary costs - for the next four years.

The Board of Legislators, working with the county’s budget team, has developed a five year plan that stabilizes the county’s finances and allows for repairs to critical infrastructure - such as replacement of leaking roofs as well as replacing trucks with an excess of 200,000 miles.

Additionally, the plan calls for the county to build its fund balance from the current balance of $4 million (2% of budget) to $10 million in the next five years, still substantially below the comptroller’s recommendation of approximately 17% of budget ($32 Million). However, this will help reduce the need to borrow annually for cash flow.

We are hopeful that our state representatives will approve home rule legislation for sales tax, which will finally provide St. Lawrence County the same tools as 57 other counties in the state. St. Lawrence is one of only five counties that remains at a 3% local sales tax while most are at 4%. The extra 1% equals approximately $14 million per year and will alleviate the need for excessive property tax increases.

While St. Lawrence County has trimmed its budget by over $13 million over the past four years, including a reduction of 150 positions or 15% of our workforce, we remain unable to meet the growing costs of state mandates without the 1% sales increase.

In the past four years, the county has cut valuable services to county residents including elimination of:

• Certified Home Health Agency, which provided homecare for residents in following hospitalization and those who are in need of long term in-home care

• Cancer Services Program, which provided mammograms and screenings for those who do not have insurance or cannot afford them

• MOMS Program for pregnant mothers

• Physically Handicapped Children’s Program

• Dental Sealant Program

• Electronic home monitoring for inmates

• Rural Bus System

• Economic Development Department

• partner agency funding to 11 organizations.

Additionally, the county has reduced:

• services in the Senior Nutrition Program

• services for the Senior In-home Assistance Program

• Home Repair Program for the Elderly

• contract agency funding by 10%.

The Board of Legislators believes it has put its financial house in order. We have opened the books to the Senate Finance Committee as requested by Senator Patty Ritchie, undergone a two month audit with the Comptroller’s Office, and sought the assistance of the comptroller’s staff in recommendations to continue to stabilize the finance of the county.

We, now, turn to our state representatives to provide the county with parity and equal treatment by giving us the same tools as almost all other counties in the state through authorizing the home rule legislative approval to increase the sales tax to 4%.

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Sen. Griffo’s full statement, released this morning, can be seen here.