Press-Republican

June 25, 2013

Legislature OKs Essex Co. sales-tax hike

Essex County increase awaits governor's signature

LOHR McKINSTRY Press-Republican
Press-Republican

ELIZABETHTOWN — People who make purchases in Essex County may soon pay an extra one-quarter percent in sales tax.

Last Friday, both houses of the State Legislature approved the county’s request for a one-quarter percent hike in its county sales tax.



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That means the 3.75 percent county rate would go to 4 percent — matching the state’s 4 percent — if Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law and the Essex County Board of Supervisors then votes for the increase.

Essex County would then have a combined sales tax rate of 8 percent, the same as surrounding counties.

‘DESPERATELY NEEDED’

The extra one-quarter percent would generate about $2 million in additional sales tax revenue, County Manager Daniel Palmer said.

Assemblyman Dan Stec (R-Queensbury), who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said that if the governor signs the bill, it’s still up to the county to OK the increase.

“This is a Home Rule legislation that gives them the option,” he said. “I am a big believer in Home Rule. Since they asked for it, I’d be surprised if they didn’t follow through. 

“This makes a big difference on their finances.”

The increase was not on the agenda for discussion at Monday’s Board of Supervisors Ways and Means session, Vice Chair William Ferebee (R-Keene) said, out of courtesy to Cuomo, who must still sign the legislation before it can take effect.

“It’s good news for the county,” Ferebee said. “We can use it.”

Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) couldn’t be at Monday’s meeting, but he said by email that it looks like the county finally succeeded this time.

“This was desperately needed to increase our revenues without going onto the property tax.”

He said County Attorney Daniel Manning, County Manager Dan Palmer and County Treasurer Mike Diskin worked hard on the submission for the proposal.

“And I am proud of my lobbying,” Douglas said.

‘LEAST INTRUSIVE’

The county had tried twice before to get the increase passed by the State Legislature, with no success.

“(There were) efforts on behalf of Essex County explaining our need for this to Gov. Cuomo and the New York State Senate and Assembly,” Douglas said.

“I am very thankful that Gov. Cuomo will consider our proposal. I have had numerous personal conversations with him on this issue, and he truly understands our desperate need.”

Douglas said Stec, State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and the State Association of Counties all helped “make this a reality.”

Essex County has struggled to balance its budget without hefty property-tax increases in recent years, Douglas said.

“The bottom line is none of us want to raise taxes. However, this is the least intrusive tax financially on our local taxpayers, who are struggling to survive during these tough times. 

“We are working so hard to find any ways to increase revenues to help stabilize property taxes.”

‘MODEST INCREASE’

The legislature also authorized Franklin and Clinton counties to continue their existing 4 percent sales taxes.

The Governor’s Press Office did not immediately respond to a request for information on the governor’s response to the bill. 

Stec said the Legislature has 30 days to send it to Cuomo, who then has 10 days to sign or veto it.

“We should know by the end of July,” the assemblyman said. “Essex County has been trying to get the increase legislation (passed) for several years. 

“It’s a quarter of a percent, and most counties are at 8 percent or higher.

“They (Essex County lawmakers) know their county finances better than anybody,” Stec continued. “This is a county trying to recover from (Tropical Storm) Irene, and they have fiscal challenges. 

“It’s a modest increase.”

Email Lohr McKinstry:

lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com