WARRENSBURG -- In a reversal of a decision made just several weeks ago, Warren County Supervisors voted Friday to back off their initiative to raise the sales tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent.
Also, they approved a 2010 budget that calls for an increase in county property taxes of 6.1 percent -- with 2010 tax increases in various towns ranging from 5 percent to 24 percent.
The supervisors' vote came eight days after the public expressed their dismay over the proposed sales tax hike at an informal public hearing, when all but one speaker voiced strong objections to the measure.
The vote was to withdraw a request to the state legislature to pass a home rule law enabling the sales tax increase.
County Budget Officer Kevin Geraghty, one of several supervisors who changed their vote, said he did so because of the public sentiment against the hike.
The vote came after a passionate, testy debate Friday between opponents and supporters of the hike, who said that the county needed the additional $12 million to $16 million in annual revenue to rebuild the county's depleted financial reserves and decrease county property taxes.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred
Monroe contended that temporarily increasing sales tax -- a discretionary tax which would be shared by tourists -- was far preferable than boosting property taxes, which he said would be forcing people out of their homes and crimping businesses.
He said that foreclosures and late property tax payments had multiplied in the last several years, and a property tax hike was not only an additional burden to citizens, but it would decrease county revenues.
"Property tax is killing our county residents, and these tax increases don't make sense," Monroe said.
He predicted that up to $4 million in property tax revenue would be in jeopardy in 2010 after the 6.1 property tax hike is imposed.
Most of the support for the sales tax increase over boosted property taxes came from upcounty supervisors, whose constituents would be facing disproportionately high county property tax increases.
In Johnsburg, the 2010 county tax hike of 6.1 percent would translate to a 23.4 percent tax increase, where 20 percent of households are now under the poverty level, Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said.
"This is going to be devastating, and people are going to lose their homes," he said. "We are turning away from an opportunity to control our taxes -- We are making a terrible mistake."