by Rachel Hunter
St. Lawrence County District 5 Legislator Henry Leader (R-Gouverneur) talked to the Town of Gouverneur Council at its Sept. 10 board meeting on the issue of the potential renegotiation of sales tax apportionment to municipalities. The matter was discussed at the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators’ full board meeting on Sept. 9.
“There is a lot of discussion about the sales tax,” Legislator Leader said. “The background is: Counties were enabled by New York State to collect sales tax because Medicaid expenses became a shared expense between the counties and the state. And so in 1965, effective 1966, because of that they said, “Okay counties, you can collect sales tax.” In and around 1965, the then-county board of supervisors agreed to let the municipalities share the sales tax. And so local governments could get about 50 percent of its sales tax. That would have included the City of Ogdensburg. And then there was an additional 1 percent sales tax in 2012, and as you know, they agreed to split that 1 percent with the county and with the towns and with the City of Ogdensburg.
“So, everything seems pretty good, but what happens was this year, New York State decided to end its responsibility for aid to municipalities payments, the AIM funding. So, out of the 44 towns and villages, I think 36 were affected and it is going to add another $1 million to the county. This whole background is important because all of sudden why is anybody saying, “Let’s renegotiate. Let’s share the sales tax revenue.” And so there’s members in the Republican party, particularly in the leadership, that want to do different sharings with the sales tax.
“And why do they want to do that? So, last night, we hashed it out pretty heavily and I think the purpose for that is that, even though the county is in good fiscal shape right now, the anticipated costs are coming. The anticipated work for bridges and for roads and other costs that are coming down the line are going to be a burden on the county, and they are concerned that they will be in bad fiscal position within a few years and that they will have to raise the county taxes. And the county does not want to do that. So hence the thought of renegotiating the sharing of the sales tax.
“They know where I stand on this, and I am very loyal to my local municipalities. But I keep an open ear and I listen. So, it may come up, it may not come up, but it is going to be contingent upon Ogdensburg. Out of all of the municipalities, the City is the only real player in this that has the ability to do any type of negotiating or any discussion with how the proceeds are going to be shared.
“And they know that is not going to be real popular with a lot of municipalities that are affected. So it may be a dead issue. I will keep you apprised on everything that happens. There may be a bipartisan push to say that the county would take off the missing money from the AIM, and then just split it like it always did. If that were happening, it would be a little bit of a loss, but it would be miniscule compared to some of the other proposals, and there’s about eight different proposals for sharing that are going to be battled out. That’s a thing to keep aware of.”
Legislator Leader reported that there was to be a meeting Sept. 11 between St. Lawrence County and the City of Ogdensburg. “We’ll see where the City of Ogdensburg is on the whole issue,” he said.
Legislator Leader then continued as follows: “The other significant thing is this is good till 2020, but it is a 10-year agreement, so that could significantly impact things for 10 years. To give credit to some of the county legislators who brought this forward, they are trying to think ahead, they are trying to anticipate what is going to happen. They don’t want to raise taxes. But the other side of it is going to hurt municipalities, and it is going to be a big debt. So really the state is shifting it to the counties, and the counties are trying to shift it to the towns. I would definitely get further input before I made any definitive vote, if it goes that far… and it may not.”
Town of Gouverneur Deputy Supervisor Eldon Conklin then made the following comments: “If Ogdensburg doesn’t, it won’t happen anyway. Ogdensburg is not, in the financial position they are in right now, I don’t think… Besides that, the amount of chargebacks the county keeps shoving on the townships. I have a real problem with the fact that we fund the planning board, but everything we send over there, there is a price tag attached to it. The board of elections, totally funded by the townships… And there’s just so many things that get charged back to the townships already, and now they are talking about taking money away from us. And I don’t know what all these new bypasses or whatever they call them, who is paying for those. I got a feeling…”
“We’ll see it next year in chargebacks,” Town of Gouverneur Supervisor Dave Spilman, Jr. said.
“They fail to look at this,” Deputy Supervisor Conklin said. “Plus we are in a position that we can’t raise taxes something 1.8 percent, amounting to $6,000 or $7,000... I don’t know how the rest of the board feels, but I am going to fight. I will tell you that.”
“If it comes to that,” Legislator Leader said. “And it may be dead on the vine. I don’t know. But the other important thing is the reasoning behind it. Why are we even distributing it at all? That’s where I inquire to find out what’s going on.”
“The thing they want to think about, these townships have got snowplow contracts with them,” Deputy Supervisor Conklin said. “They might have to all of sudden buy 10 or 12 trucks.
“They are getting some space in Gouverneur very cheaply, for nothing, which is good,” Legislator Leader said. “We have a lot of goodwill with them. And Gouverneur is often praised publicly for everything. But we are pretty good partners to them. So hopefully they will return the favors.”
Supervisor Spilman then said the following: “Well, we’ve had a good relationship with them so far. County Administrator Ruth Doyle is wonderful. She is straightforward. But yeah, this will take a little conversation…”
Legislator Leader then informed all those gathered that he would report any new developments at the Village of Gouverneur Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, September 17, 7 p.m., in the municipal courtroom.
During his time for comments, Village of Gouverneur Mayor Ron McDougall said the following on the matter: “We had a St. Lawrence County Mayors Association meeting on Thursday in Canton… We’ll see how it goes. I think it is too early to brag that we think this is all resolved because it is never resolved until it is all resolved. Of course, it doesn’t take effect until January 1, 2021. Working hard on that and teaming up with the Association of Towns, and that’s a reach out there. I have already had two or three other supervisors reach out to me. Of course, the supervisor of the Town of DeKalb (John Frary) is the chair of the St. Lawrence County Town Supervisors Association.”
No other comments were made on the matter. The next monthly meeting of the Town of Gouverneur Council is to be held on Tuesday, October 8, 6 p.m., in the town offices building.