County considers hike in sales tax

QUEENSBURY - Faced with a potential budget shortfall of $6.35 million next year, Warren County officials are now considering raising the sales tax 1 percentage point to a rate of 8 percent.

The county Board of Supervisors is convening at 9 a.m. Friday at the county Municipal Center to weigh the potential impact of raising the sales tax, and perhaps vote for enabling state "home rule" legislation for the increase.

A vote before a legislative deadline of April 27 is necessary to preserve the option of raising the sales tax in 2010, Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe told supervisors last Friday at a full monthly board meeting.

Supervisors appeared divided on the sales tax hike idea. Monroe and others said they supported the measure, because it would offer substantial property tax relief, cutting the county property tax levy by more than one-third for a single percentage point increase in the sales tax.

Other supervisors, like Bill Kenny, a Glens Falls Supervisor representing a ward in Glens Falls, said they opposed the idea.

"For our lower-income residents, a sales tax increase is a hardship," he said, noting that sales tax boosted the price of necessities. "The poor don't have options."

But Lake George Supervisor Lou Tessier countered that the property owners of modest income were facing a worse crunch without the sales tax hike, particularly when the county could seize their homes to pay ever-rising property taxes.

Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino said the sales tax increase wouldn't hurt the poor or middle class, but shift a share of the tax burden to visitors.

"We all don't want to see tax increases, but each 1 percent reduces an average taxpayers' annual property tax bill by $280, and that person would have to spend $28,000 per year in Warren County to break even on that figure," he said. "We'd be saving a lot of local residents some money. "

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