Legislation could end state approval of county sales tax

North Country Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward said Monday that the state is likely to consider a bill that would no longer require counties to seek legislative approval before hiking the local sales tax.

The Willsboro Republican told WNBZ that because of Governor Andrew Cuomo's pledge to halt or cap taxes statewide, the move would allow Albany to sidestep the blame if a county decides to increase its sales tax rate to a level equal with the state's take.

"I think it's doable and it would be a good out for the governor. He could help the counties out and he wouldn't have to be faced with a bill that increases taxes and him having to make a decision on it," she said. "It would be a good way for him to help the counties out while moving forward."

Both Essex and Hamilton counties are currently seeking legislative authority to increase their sales tax rates. If Essex County's rate increases from 3.75 percent to 4 percent, it could mean an additional $1 million in revenue for the cash-strapped municipality.

While Essex County's petition passed the Assembly, it stalled in the state Senate, Sayward says.

"It's a difficult process because it becomes political," she said. "A lot of times representatives are reluctant to vote yes because when they run for re-election their opponent will use that to say they have raised taxes 'x' amount of times."

During his "state of the county" address Monday, Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas reaffirmed his belief that an increase in the county sales tax rate is required to avoid future hikes in property taxes.

"I know that a tax is a tax, but I truly believe that a small increase in sales is less intrusive than a property tax increase for the people of Essex County," he said. "We depend heavily on tourism to survive and for visitors to be able to enjoy this two-time Olympic county for an additional quarter of a percent in sales tax is still a real bargain."

The state currently collects 4 percent on taxable purchases and a vast majority of counties in New York collect the same amount.

The push to increase the local sales tax rate isn't without controversy.

Westport Democratic Supervisor Dan Connell has repeatedly voted against the Essex County petition seeking legislative home rule authority.

"A tax increase is a tax increase," Connell said. "This increase would hurt those with the least, those who can't afford to own property."

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