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St. Lawrence County adjusting five-year tax plan

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County may adjust its five-year plan to further reduce property taxes if it receives a sales tax increase.

The county Board of Legislators wants to increase its sales tax from 3 to 4 percent, bringing the total — with the state’s 4 percent — to 8 percent. To improve its argument before state Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, the county prepared a plan showing how it could stabilize property taxes with the additional revenue.

The first year of the plan called for a potential property tax decrease of 14.3 percent. For 2013, county lawmakers approved a tax levy increase of 14.4 percent, so the proposal would cut taxes to where they were last year. However, the plan in subsequent years calls for modest tax levy increases.

They were not low enough for Mrs. Ritchie to support home rule legislation to allow the county to raise its sales tax because the plan included both a sales tax increase and property tax increase.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, a holdout on the board opposing a sales tax increase, said he could support the measure if the property tax levy did not rise at all.

“That would force us to look into the county operations. We need to look at ways to cut our costs,” he said. “My contention all along is all this money is out of the same wallet.”

Supporters of an increase in the sales tax argue that it would raise more revenue from Canadian shoppers and college students who do not pay property taxes.

That would be true to some extent, Mr. Acres said.

“I’m pretty firm in my belief St. Lawrence County residents would pay 90 percent of this,” he said. “The public seems to think someone else is going to pay it. It’s a tax you’re paying you don’t see.”

A zero percent increase in the tax levy forever more would be unreasonable, said Finance Committee Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, who plans to finalize his modifications to the plan before Monday’s legislative session.

Unknown future increases in health insurance, the price of fuel and other factors could make it difficult to follow through on a plan developed years earlier, he said.

“What I don’t want to do is put anything in there that we can’t do,” Mr. Morrill said. “I don’t think we can debate right now what we’re going to cut in 2017.”

He has already cut back on rebuilding the county’s fund balance in order to decrease the tax levy increases in the out years of the plan.

Legislators are scheduled to meet with Mrs. Ritchie soon and Mr. Griffo in March.

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