County Board considers sales tax increase

ELIZABETHTOWN As the time for composing a budget approaches, the Essex County Board of Supervisors has already begun to search for ways to improve the bottom line. At a meeting of the boards Finance Committee Aug. 18, North Elba supervisor Robert Politi presented his proposal for increasing revenue. Noting numerous program cuts expected at the state level, including a proposed $169 million statewide cut directed at nursing homes, Politi suggested seeking more revenue to maintain local programs. I think that state promises dont mean much today and I think that the time is close at hand when we should consider increasing the sales tax rate in this county, he said. Politi suggested that a tax rate increase of one-half percent would help offset the losses from state cuts. I also would recommend that we consider that one quarter percent stay with the county and one quarter percent be redistributed to the towns, and that we redistribute that sales tax revenue based upon a formula that takes into consideration both population and assessed [property] value, Politi said. Politi pointed to estimates from the visitors bureau that roughly 70 percent of sales tax revenue comes from people outside the county, placing the burden less on local residents. He also provided figures from several other counties in the state where the sales tax is noticeably higher. I dont think that by raising the sales tax by half a point, its going to have any great effect on people coming to our area or spending money, he said. County Treasurer Michael Diskin estimates that a quarter-percent increase could bring in an additional $1.5 million in revenue for the county. That same amount would be distributed among the towns and villages under Politis plan. Those are the revenues that I think would be beneficial... given the fact that the state is taking away so much of what has been promised in the past, said Politi Other supervisors echoed the issues Politi raised, recognizing a need to either increase revenues or cut spending. Weve been fortunate in Essex county that weve not had an increase in our tax levy in the past 4 years now, said Moriah supervisor. Thomas Scozzafava, chair of the committee. If you want to continue to provide those services then the only other option youre going to have is to increase the property tax, which none of us want to do. Newcomb supervisor George Canon, recognizing continued attempts by the county to increase revenues, added, At some point and time you have to take a look at the services provided in this county and say, Im sorry, were just not going to be able to afford that anymore. There comes a time where we really need to look at services, said Westport supervisor Daniel Connell, who suggested that spending be scrutinized closely even with an increase in sales tax. Generally, supervisors who spoke to the issue felt that a sales tax increase was justified. You go anywhere else and their [sales] taxes are far higher than here, said Randy Preston, supervisor of Wilmington. Jay supervisor Randall Douglas echoed that sentiment based on a recent trip out-of-state. The way things are going with the state funding and the cuts that they have, I totally agree that the time is right for us now to be discussing this and putting this on the table, said Elizabethtown supervisor Noel Merrihew, who suggested that the added revenues to the county be used for capital improvement projects. According to Diskin, the sales tax rate in Essex County is 7.75% with 3.75% staying in the county. The last sales tax increase was in September 2004 with an increase of three-quarter percent. Diskin said that the proposed plan was fairly unique since other counties often base redistribution entirely on either population or assessed value. A resolution on the issue was put on hold to give officials a chance to explore the plan further and determine the next steps to take. There are different things that we need to look into, but it sounds as though this committee wants to move forward, Scozzafava said.

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