WARRENSBURG - In a reversal of a decision made just several weeks ago, Warren County supervisors voted Friday to back off their campaign 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 unavoidable 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 county property tax revenue would be in jeopardy in 2010 after the 6.1 percent property tax hike is imposed in January.
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."
Voting against rescinding the sales tax hike request were Goodspeed, Monroe, Bolton Supervisor Kathleen Simmes, Ralph Bentley of Horicon, Dan Belden of Hague, Red Pitkin of Thurman, Frank Thomas of Stony Creek, Gene Merlino of Lake Luzerne, and Glens Falls supervisors Daniel Girard and Joseph Sheehan.
Warrensburg Supervisor Kevin Geraghty voted for the measure. Lake George Supervisor Lou Tessier, who has supported the sales tax hike in the past, was not present at Friday's meeting due to the death of a relative.
An alternative initiative calling for an increase of 0.5 percent in the sales tax rate, supported by Thurman Supervisor Red Pitkin and many other supervisors, failed in a subsequent vote.