Hamilton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Farber, pictured above, is lobbying the state legislature for an increase in the county's sales tax to offset rising expenses.
LAKE PLEASANT — One of only 11 counties of New York's 62 still under 8 percent sales tax, the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors would like to move out of that minority and increase revenues to bolster underfunded budget lines.
“The reality is that in order to fund state mandates, we've cut back year after year on budget lines like highway,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Bill Farber.
Only $85,000 is set aside for highway equipment for county roads. The approved highway equipment funding in the town of Johnsburg is $80,000, a number that even for the town was considered low for replacement demands.
With 58 bridges to maintain, the county only has $75,000 for repairs.
Hoping for a revenue infusion, the board of supervisors put in a request to the state legislature to get their sales tax rate over 7 percent during the 2011 session, but it didn't go anywhere.
“Counties have in general buffered taxpayers from state mandates almost to a fault,” said Farber.
He said there hasn't been enough pressure to reduce those mandates. With the new, state-wide 2 percent tax cap being implemented, those mandates are even more demanding on the county's resources.
Farber said the board members were hoping that public defense expenses or medicaid costs would be picked up by other government branches, but that hasn't happened.
This year's submission to the legislature is much more detailed than the last, said Farber. After they weren't approved, the board of supervisors assumed that not enough information was provided, so they packed as much as they could into the new request. Hopefully, he said, the legislature will understand the gravity of the situation.
The resolution cites cost-cutting measures that the county's already undertaken, including requiring a 20 percent contribution from employees for health insurance, a wage structure that's below the state average, eliminating and combining departments, eliminating staff positions, and developing shared service projects with towns, schools and villages.
Counties are dealing with rising costs, not all of them under their own control, said Sen. Betty Little's Communications Director Daniel MacEntee.
However, there was not a lot of support for raising sales taxes during the last legislative session because of an already high burden on New York taxpayers, he said.
The tax question affects business attraction and retention in New York, and can be a delicate issue.
While there's a need for more revenue, taxpayers generally want a lower tax burden, said MacEntee.
Little will be working with colleagues in the Senate and Assembly in the upcoming session, starting in January, to see if they can move the request forward.