Talk among Warren County leaders has resurfaced about raising the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, a move that could shift about $15 million off the backs of property owners.
The discussion has erupted again because since June, county leaders have been firing employees, paring down the county's expenses, cutting programs to the bone, yet they're still facing a $2 million budget deficit as they are attempting to keep the tax rates the same as last year.
County revenues, however, have fallen sharply, whether it's a $3.2 million drop in sales tax projected for this year, or a $600,000 decrease in bed tax receipts.
Pair that with a $1.6 million increase in subsidy necessary for the Hudson Falls trash plant, and a $1.2 million increase in contribution to retirement benefits for county employees, and the financial distress intensifies.
Add onto that the increased program costs the state is shifting to local municipalities - including $500,000 additional to administrate the food stamp program - and the county property owners are facing a staggering increase in taxes for 2010 and beyond.
Meanwhile, some of the needs of the citizens, many of which the county is mandated to take care of, are soaring.
The county Health Services department has more cases than ever, yet they may have to drastically cut their care due to downsized staffing.
Social Services caseloads have increased 35 to 65 percent, depending on the program - so this is not the time to cut staffing in the Social Services department as the county leaders have been doing.
They have been considering eliminating one of two attorneys who argue cases in court concerning abuse and neglect of children, seeking to change custody arrangements and have the children placed in safe, loving homes.
Cutting the legal staff in half puts children at risk.
This is just one of many positions, up to 40, that are on the chopping block.
Already, our roadways have suffered, with far less mileage of new paving being laid down this year than in prior years, and there are more potholes and substandard roadways around the county than in recent history.
But with the record foreclosures and oppressive tax burden, county taxpayers can't afford to have property taxes raised.
Why not raise the sales tax to 8 percent? Only five of the state's 672 counties have sales tax less than 8 percent, and they include Warren, Washington and Saratoga counties.
The basic problem is chiefly with ever-increasing state mandates on counties to provide unfunded services.
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 wealthy 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 and medicine are non-taxable.
Also, any dollar raised as a tax on consumption - which is primarily a matter of personal choice - reduces a mandated, unavoidable property tax which is not a matter of personal choice.
Opponents of a sales tax hike also say that taxes would discourage tourism, but this is likely not true. Remember how many vocal citizens claimed the 3 percent bed tax now charged at hotels and motels would repel visitors? Since the bed tax has been imposed, we've enjoyed a string of outstanding seasons for tourism.
Citizens wary of a sales tax increase should consider Lake Luzerne Supervisor Gene Merlino's calculations. He estimates that a 1 percent sales tax offers a net gain by most county taxpayers of $280 per year. At that rate, a citizen would have to spend $28,000 for taxable goods and services to break even.
The opposition to raising sales tax in April deep-sixed the concept until late 2010, because the county leaders would have to request enabling legislation from the state to allow a sales tax increase.
But now is the time to take steps forward.
Many in April thought government excess should be trimmed before any sales tax increase was considered.
But the services and programs have now been cut substantially, and it's now time to boost the revenue and support the 8 percent sales tax rate - as long as the $15 million or so in new revenue is dedicated to reducing property taxes, rather than bloating the county bureaucracy like occurred in the mid-1990s through 2008.
Thom Randall is the editor of the Adirondack Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org