No one wants to say the "T" word these days, so it shows a little courage for Essex County supervisors to ask the state for a sales-tax hike. It shows some smarts, too.
Essex County has a 3.75-percent sales tax, which, added to the state tax of 4 percent, means people pay 7.75 percent total on purchases.
The other counties in this area, Clinton and Franklin, each charge a 4-percent tax, giving people who shop there an 8-percent total charge. Franklin County stepped up to 4 percent in 2006; Clinton made the move the next year.
In 2008, Essex County raised its sales tax also, but only three-quarters of a percent, not the full 1 percent the state was allowing. That was a result of factions on the Essex County Board of Supervisors squaring off over a stand for no new taxes versus a need for new revenue. The compromise was to ask for a sales-tax increase while holding back a bit on the amount.
But that quarter percent can mean big money. Newcomb Supervisor George Canon recently put the estimate at $1.5 million a year, funds that could ease the county's budget crunch and the need for a large property-tax increase.
Officials in Clinton and Essex counties have been pleased with the boost in funds received from their quarter-percent change. Sales-tax revenue, in general, is down from the glory days of the past, so that extra income is a parachute to a softer landing.
The advantage of raising a sales tax instead of a property tax is that the pain is spread over more people. Residents here will certainly pay a bit more for their purchases, but so will any visitors to the county — and in Essex County, visitors are plentiful. The county is home to the tourist meccas of Lake Placid and Wilmington, the strong historic draw of Ticonderoga and many communities with scenic and recreational attractions.
Essex County, realizing how valuable the extra revenue could be in its cash crunch, tried twice last year to increase the sales tax, first in April and then again in December. But the measure — introduced in the Senate by Sen. Betty Little and in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward — never made it through the State Legislature, stymied by a combination of bad timing and a statewide reluctance to be on the yes side of raising any taxes.
County officials feel the prospects for passage may be better now, with state officials seeing the significance in revenue culled outside the route of property taxes. At a meeting Monday, the Board of Supervisors is expected to send the quarter-percent increase back into the hands of state legislators.
This is a tax that has a tiny daily impact that can add up to big benefits.