St. Lawrence County legislators call on state officials to renew county’s 4 percent sales tax
Friday, May 5, 2017 - 2:37 pm

By JIMMY LAWTON

CANTON -- St. Lawrence County legislators are hoping to continue charging an additional 1 percent sales tax on purchases in St. Lawrence County.

On Monday, legislators passed a resolution calling on the state to allow home rule legislation permitting the county to extend the 1 percent additional sales tax through December 2019.

New York state collects a 4 percent sales tax. Prior to 2013, St. Lawrence County collected 3 percent. In Dec. 2013, the county began charging a 4 percent, bringing the sales tax to 8 percent.

However, in order to collect the additional 1 percent, St. Lawrence County must get approval from state lawmakers. The original increase was permitted from December 2013 through Nov. 30, 2015. It was then renewed from Dec. 1, 2015 through Nov. 30, 2017.

Now the county is seeking to renew that additional tax through Nov. 2019.

In the resolution, legislators cite state mandates as a driving factor in the need to sustain the increased tax collection.

“New York State imposed financial mandates, which include among many others Medicaid, special education programming, and retirement that severely strain county resources and have the potential to consume entire county budgets,” the resolution says.

At the time of its original passage, the legislation was opposed by Republican state senators, who feared St. Lawrence County was already burdened with heavy taxes. Sen. Joseph Griffo only agreed to support the measure after the county met several requirements, including improved financial planning.

The county responded by creating a five-year plan, which largely fell to the wayside not long after it’s creation. Despite that particular plan being scrapped, legislators have worked to maintain low property taxes in the past few years.

Since implementing the additional sales tax, the county has not exceeded the state-imposed tax cap. Last year, the county established a strategic planning committee focused on trimming waste and finding additional resources. The county has also upheld a hiring freeze of sorts, which requires all job openings to be endorsed by a committee prior to being filled by the full board of legislators.

In a recent interview, St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators Chairman Kevin Acres said the delayed filling of positions has saved the county a significant amount of money.

Some legislators have argued in the past that the sales tax is a “fairer” tax, compared to property taxes, especially in a county where the 40 percent of assessed properties are tax-exempt.

St. Lawrence County is not the sole benefactor additional tax. The county shares the revenues with towns, villages and the City of Ogdensburg.

Under the proposed renewal, Ogdensburg will receive 6.4 percent of the revenues generated by the 1 percent increase and the remaining towns and villages will evenly split a 10 percent share.

St. Lawrence County will collect the remaining 83 percent.

County officials forwarded the resolution to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and all of St. Lawrence County’s state representatives.