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Time to consider a county sales tax hike

When I lived in Phoenix Arizona in the mid-1970s, my family welcomed a new neighbor to our street.

He and his family had just fled from upstate New York, citing an insufferable tax burden. At that time, his middle-class house in suburban Rochester bore taxes that approached some workers' annual income.

In contrast, his combined state, city, and school taxes in his new Phoenix home totaled about $120 for a three-bedroom suburban house.

Nowadays, annual property taxes on a dilapidated, aging house in Warrensburg can cost more annually than a family vacation to the Caribbean.

The heavy tax burden in upstate New York is legendary. This is not surprising when our state ranks among the top three or so states in total tax burden.

The basic problem, of course, is with ever-increasing state mandates on local government to provide unfunded services. But more fundamentally, the problem lies with our supersized expectations from government.

Warren County is facing a budget crunch in 2010, with soaring expenses relating to county employees' health care and retirement costs, trash plant expenses, and boosted debt for capital expenditures.

This looming $6.35 million shortfall is expected to boost the county property tax burden by 17 percent.

Although the thought of boosting taxes is onerous, consider an option raised this week by county supervisors: increasing the county tax rate from 7 to 8 percent.

That 1 percent increase would raise between $15 and $16 million in extra income to pay for government operations, and more than offset any projected 2010 property tax increase.

Opponents to a sales tax hike say that sales taxes are regressive, hurting the poor more than the wealthy.

But I disagree. A large percentage of our county's economy is based on either tourists, or well-heeled part year residents, both of whom consume a tremendous amount of goods and services that are taxed. Three percent of taxable sales already brings $45 million into the county. In addition, remember that groceries are non-taxable.

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