St. Lawrence County Legislators won't support Ogdensburg sales tax collection
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
St. Lawrence County Legislators voted not to support Ogdensburg’s request to collect the additional 1 percent sales tax.
Following a lengthy debate and two failed attempts to table the resolution, the county voted against supporting home rule legislation that could keep more than $1 million in sales tax revenue from the City of Ogdensburg.The resolution of support was tabled at a July 20 meeting, but was brought to the floor again July 26.
Legislators David Forsythe and Jim Reagen, both Republicans who represent the city, urged their colleagues to support the resolution, but to no avail.
At issue is the long-standing dispute over sales tax between the county and city, which has led the city to break away from the county and begin collecting its own sales tax. However, a home rule law passed in 2014 allows the county to collect an additional 1% of sales tax. The city had sought to get the same permission to keep that additional 1% of sales tax generated within the city limits through home rule legislation, which passed in the Senate but failed in the Assembly.
Many believe the Assembly did not pass the bill due to a lack of county support.
Forsythe said that the county gave the city little choice in the decision to pre-empt the county on sales tax collected within the city limits and should support its efforts to keep the extra 1 percent to ensure the city will not be forced to reduce its workforce and services.
He said that the county has staunchly supported home rule legislation since 2013 and asked his colleagues to continue that practice.
Legislator Reagen said that the issue has divided communities, the board of legislators and set neighbor against neighbor. He said that the county should also consider the ramifications of voting against home rule legislation as it could have an impact at the state level.
He said the state legislators may fail to pass the county’s request to renew it’s additional 1 percent sales tax if there is division between the city and county.
“We could find ourselves in a very precarious and dangerous situation,” he said.
Legislators who voted against the measure said they did not want to see Ogdensburg fail, but argued that the city had collected a disproportionate amount of sales tax and said it was time to bring them in-line with the other towns and villages.
While Ogdensburg has traditionally collected a larger percent of the sales tax take than similar sized towns and villages, the city has also traditionally received fewer county services.
In particular is the property tax jurisdiction, which requires the city to pay the county for unpaid property taxes, something towns and villages don’t have to do.
Lightfoot pointed out that the county’s unallocated fund balance remains below state recommendations and said that failing to the stay below the state’s 2 percent tax cap could cost the county millions in state aid.
He said that before any decisions are made the county needs real numbers to determine if giving up a portion of the extra 1 percent is a fiscally responsible move for taxpayers.
Several legislators agreed that more firm numbers could help them come to a decision, but Forsythe argued that such numbers do not exist at this time.
Lightfoot said that Ogdensburg is also attempting to get the county to take over a host of services.
He said the city wants the county to take over it’s police service, dispatch, property tax jurisdiction, health insurance coverage, human resources services, county attorney services real property staff and others services.
Reagen argued that nearly all of the requests made by Ogensburg were services already to provided to other municipalities and they were brought forward as a result of the county’s plan to take $2 million in sales tax away from the city.
“It’s an issue of civil fairness, I am very concerned for the county’s future that if we block the city’s ability in obtaining this home rule legislation that it could very well come back to haunt us when we seek renewal of our sales tax,” he said.
Many legislators chose not to support the resolution because they were unsure what impact the preemption of the extra 1 percent would have on the smaller municipalities.
In the end the resolution failed with only four legislators voting in favor.