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Sales tax revenue increases surprise area officials

WARRENSBURG Talk of a collapsing economy has soured people on car buying, kept people out of stores, and prompted them to postpone big purchases, right? Not according to sales tax reports released this week by the state. Warren, Washington, Clinton, Essex and Saratoga counties all have experienced substantial increases in sales tax revenue for the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, according to the state. And the increases in these North Country counties are far higher than the state in general, according to figures provided this week by the state Dept. of Taxation and Finance. The boosted sales of non-food items and services means sales tax revenue returned to these North Country counties will be higher than expected, easing the local tax burden some. Warren County brought in $524,345 more than last year during the January-through-June time period, or a 5 percent increase. Statewide, excluding New York City, the increase was 3.7 percent. In Essex County, sales tax revenue was up 3.4 percent, and Clinton County experienced a whopping 12.1 percent increase. Washington County was comparable, with a 13.3 percent increase; and Saratoga County experienced a 5.2 percent boost. Local economic officials said a modest portion of the increases were due to boosted gasoline prices, but they werent an overriding factor in the increase. Warren County Economic Development Corp. President Len Fosbrook said there was merely more economic activity now occurring in Warren County. Theres a lot of construction going on in Queensbury and Glens Falls and many new businesses have moved into downtown, Fosbrook said. Theres simply more commerce in Warren County and thats whats driving the numbers This indicates our local economy is fairly healthy. Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe said the vastly increased number of upscale chain hotels in Lake George and Queensbury in the last two years were a factor in the healthy sales tax revenue. Local tourism officials have said the chains are drawing more and more travelers off the Northway for an overnight stay, and that the hotels with indoor pools are a big draw for families on the move. √Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce executive Luisa Craige-Sherman confirmed that overall, accommodations have been doing well this year in Warren County, despite a faltering economy. The esteemed Smith Travel Research Report, she said, recorded that Warren County hotels, motels and inns were up 8.8 percent for booked room-nights for the week of June 29 through July 5, while the comparable resort destination of Dauphin County Pa. home of Hershey amusement park was down 2.1 percent for 2008 compared to the same week in 2007. York County Maine was down 3 percent, and the Atlantic City area slumped 10.9 percent. Saratoga County was up 17.1 percent this year for the crucial time period, she said. But Craige-Sherman cautioned that booked room-nights were highly dependent on weather, citing figures for comparable destinations for week of the July 20 through 26. During that period, she said, Warren County dropped 3.6 percent, but other counties fared worse. York County was down 7.7 percent, Atlantic City was down 5.3 percent, however. Saratoga County fell by 14.2 percent, and Dauphin Co. was down 1.1 percent. You can expect tremendous shifts like this just due to the weather, she said. A survey among retail businesses conducted by the Chamber in late June yielded responses that characterized the summers starting weeks as poor to average, despite the healthy statistics. Craig-Sherman, however, cautioned that the survey results were not coming from the large businesses, but primarily small shops along Canada St. in the village The survey also cited opinions, not hard figures. Clinton Countys 12.1 percent increase year-over-year for the first six months of 2008 was partially fueled by boosted shopping by Canadians due to the cheap U.S. dollar, economic officials said this week. Hamilton County was the only area county to experience a loss, giving up 5.3 percent in sales tax for the first half of 2008, as compared to last year. Warren Countys sales tax revenue for January through June 2008 was $20,483,436 compared to $19,502,073 for the same stretch of 2007. The first quarter of 2008 alone reflected a 5.4 percent increase, and the second quarter was a 4.7 increase. These were the largest quarterly increases since the 4th quarter of 2006 2007 sales tax revenue was nearly flat when the county registered a 9.3 percent increase. Warren County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty said these figures were encouraging, and they seemed to take a little pressure off the budget. The trend is still positive in sales tax revenue, and this is encouraging in hard economic times like were experiencing, he said. But the 2009 budget is not going to be easy, considering other losses in revenue that we have to make up.

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