ELIZABETHTOWN — Essex County supervisors have been discussing a half percent sales tax increase that would bring the tax rate up from 7.75 percent to 8.25 percent, an idea that has garnered widespread verbal support among supervisors as a way to raise revenues during difficult economic times. However, in a county meeting Monday, some said the idea was ill-timed.
Earlier this month, town of North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi outlined his arguments for the sales tax increase, a potentially drawn-out process since it must pass the state Legislature before being adopted. Politi said that the half-percent increase is not the entire solution to the county’s impending budgetary challenges but would help alleviate the pressure to raise property taxes down the road. North Elba generates 50 percent of the county’s sales taxes, 70 percent of which Politi said are generated from visitors.
Other supervisors have applauded the idea since the county would give back about $1.5 million in sales-tax revenue to the towns and because the amount would likely be determined based on a town’s population and assessed property value — not its sales. “This is a way of raising revenue without hurting the locals,” Politi said.
Whether such a move will hurt a greater proportion of locals elsewhere in the county is another question, Moriah Town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava said at Monday’s Ways and Means Committee meeting. He said sales taxes hurt lower-income locals more than anyone.
“It’s a regressive tax,” he said, explaining that sales taxes are flat regardless of income and therefore draw a larger share from people with lower income levels.
“Unlike what has been said before, this will hurt our constituents,” Scozzafava said. “I think it’s premature to even be discussing an increase in the sales tax. We keep piling hay on the wagon; it’s time to be taking some off.”
The county’s financial position doesn’t necessitate a tax hike, Scozzafava said, pointing to a $20 million county fund balance with only a quarter of the fiscal year remaining. He said, on the contrary, the county is far from being “in dire straits.”
Scozzafava also contested the argument that the sales tax increase is a good way to raise money for the towns. He said that if the county would like to give money to the towns, there is nothing preventing it from drawing from the county surplus to provide monetary assistance to towns this winter.
County Attorney Dan Manning has said a sales tax increase probably would not take effect until the second half of next year.
Contact George Earl at 891-2600 ext. 25 or gearl@