County votes 'Yes' on sales tax hike request

QUEENSBURY - After hearing that Warren County was in dire financial condition - with financial reserves considered the third worst in the state - county supervisors voted Monday to ask the state Legislature to allow them to raise the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent for a two-year period.

The vote, with only six supervisors voting "No," took place after about two hours of impassioned debate.

Supervisors heard from county leaders and a financial advisor that bond rating officials were meeting this week, and the county's credit rating was likely to be lowered due to the county's depleted monetary reserves.

The vote did not include restrictions on how the extra sales tax revenue - anticipated to be up to $15 million per year - would be spent, but county leaders said after the vote that it would be first allocated to wiping out a looming 9.3 percent tax increase, then be applied to restoring the county's fund balance. These cash reserves, they said, were spent in prior years to keep tax increases artificially low in the face of ballooning expenses.

The 2010 county budget, totalling about $148 million, is subject to a public hearing 7 p.m. Thursday Dec. 10 in the Supreme Court chambers at the county Municipal Center.

Supervisors said they'd entertain comments on the proposed sales tax hike as well as the county's financial condition and pending budget.

County leaders said that the lack of a financial cushion, combined with the 2010 budget gap of more than $3 million, and a looming cash-flow shortfall, prompted them to vote for the sales tax increase, which many of them formerly opposed.

Queensbury At-Large Supervisor William VanNess, who changed his mind this week and decided to vote for the tax hike, said that without a sales tax increase, county property taxes in Queensbury would soar 24 percent.

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