BY LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — The push to draft a local law authorizing an annual Essex County motor-vehicle registration fee ran out of gas Monday.
The County Board of Supervisors defeated, 11 to 6, a resolution that would have authorized County Attorney Daniel Manning III to write a local law charging a $5-a-year fee on personal autos and $10 on commercial vehicles.
The fee is allowed under state law — and is collected by surrounding counties — but now won’t be by Essex County.
Supervisor David Blades (R-Lewis) tried to rally support for the law before the vote Monday morning.
“We have very savvy people living in Essex County. This should go to a public hearing to hear what they say.”
Several lawmakers had said at last week’s Ways and Means session that they wanted to have Manning draft a law only so it could go to public hearing to test citizen support.
But a story in the Press-Republican about the idea resulted in a flurry of opposition from residents, said Supervisor Gerald Morrow (D-Chesterfield), who had opposed the law at the previous meeting.
“My constituents were 100 percent behind my comments,” he said. “Only the ones driving the roads, the people of Essex County, are going to pay this tax.”
Supervisor Daniel Connell (D-Westport) said he also got calls and visits from people who don’t want a new fee.
“I’ve not had anybody contact me in support of this. At this point, I don’t need a public hearing; everybody has contacted me.”
Supervisor Randy Preston (I-Wilmington) said his constituents were also against the fee, but he would support it out of what he saw as necessity.
“If we’re looking at a (possible) 20 percent property-tax increase, we have to take the lesser of two evils,” Preston said. “We’re going to have a very big struggle with the (2014 county) budget.”
SALES TAX MIGHT HELP
Supervisor Charles Harrington (R-Crown Point) noted the State Legislature recently approved a one-quarter percent sales-tax hike for the county, which will raise about $2 million. So they might not need the $150,000 the vehicle fee is predicted to generate, he said.
The sales-tax hike is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
“Do you believe the budget for next year is going to exceed a $2 million increase?” Harrington said.
“It’s too premature to say: We’ll get this; we won’t get that,” Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) told him.
Harrington said that, in that case, they should postpone the DMV fee until they know.
One supervisor who was previously an ardent supporter of the vehicle fee now opposes it.
“I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that a tax is a tax,” Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) revealed. “I especially heard from small businesses and farmers.”
The money from the fee was supposed to go for road maintenance, Scozzafava said, so he’d support it only if the county property-tax levy were reduced by an equal amount.
“This is just going to be more money we end up spending without reducing anything.”
Only six out of 17 supervisors present for the vote endorsed the vehicle fee. Supervisor Sue Montgomery Corey (D-Minerva) had stepped out of the room to take an important call.
Voting yes were Douglas, Preston, Blades, Charles Whitson Jr. (R-St. Armand), William Ferebee (R-Keene) and Roby Politi (R-North Elba).
By the county’s simple majority weighted-vote system, which is used when finances are involved, the tally was 1,706 opposed and 1,150 in favor. At least 1,461 weighted votes were necessary for passage.
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