ELIZABETHTOWN - Faced with dire projections for their 2011 budget, Essex County officials are already considering an increase to the sales tax.
Jay Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas introduced a resolution at the Essex County Ways and Means Committee meeting April 26 that would allow the county to apply for a quarter-percent increase in its sales tax rate.
Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston had suggested the increase a week prior after County Manager Dan Palmer predicted as much as a 30 percent increase in the property tax levy if significant cuts are not made to the 2011 county budget.
"I think we need to look at it pretty seriously," said Preston April 19, "and I think we have no other option than to look at raising the property tax, which I am very much against doing."
Many supervisors agree raising the sales tax has less of an impact on Essex County residents than an increase in property tax because they believe a significant percentage of sales tax is paid by people not living in Essex County.
"The thing with sales tax is everybody contributes," said Palmer. "For every dollar of income the average person earns, they may spend about three cents in sales tax."
Based on that figure, Palmer said, the estimated $1.5 million that would be generated by a quarter-percent increase in the sales tax could cost residents up to 10 times more because it would equate to a 22-cent-per-thousand increase in the property tax.
Palmer has said that Essex County attracts about 2 million overnight visitors each year, helping to generate the nearly $22 million in sales tax revenue the county takes in annually. The current property tax rate of $1.98 per thousand is enough to generate the county's $13.25 million property tax levy.
The deadline for counties to submit a request for a sales tax increase is May 25, said Palmer. Applying for the increase allows, but does not require, the county to enact it.
Currently, the sales tax rate is 7.75 percent in Essex County. Raising it to a full 8 percent would put it on par with neighboring Franklin and Clinton Counties and a full point above Warren, Washington, and Hamilton Counties. Forty six of New York's 62 counties have a sales tax rate of 8 percent or higher.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava supported the resolution, but noted that the additional tax should only be used, if necessary, to take the place of a potential property tax increase.
"This isn't just looking to raise the $1.5 million so we can go out and spend it," he said.
Others, such as Westport Supervisor Dan Connell, were opposed to making the request.
"A tax is a tax is a tax," said Connell, arguing there's still much to be done to determine ways to cut county spending. "We've only just started [the] Deficit Reduction [committee] and we're already looking at a new tax."
Just last year, county officials voted to distribute a quarter-percent of its sales tax revenue among the towns and villages in Essex County. Some supervisors had argued for a half-percent or quarter-percent increase at that time, but the measure never garnered enough support.
"This isn't an additional revenue; this is a replacement revenue," argued Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow. "We already gave this quarter percent to the towns."
The resolution passed with only Connell, Crown Point Supervisor Bethany Kosmider, and Schroon Lake Supervisor Cathy Moses dissenting.