Griffo Says SLC Should Be Audited Before Sales Tax Increase

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A state senator is tentatively supporting St. Lawrence County's bid to increase its tax rate, but he thinks the county should be audited first.

See St. Lawrence County's response.

County officials have been asking senators Joe Griffo and Patty Ritchie to support what's called Home Rule legislation that would allow the county to increase its sales tax rate from 7 percent to 8 percent.

In a letter to the county's Board of Legislators, Griffo said that a sales tax increase should be approved by the people of St. Lawrence County and that he's sponsored legislation that would allow a public referendum.

Griffo's district, shown above, includes part of St. Lawrence County.

"I am willing to continue a dialogue with the county and the people so that the right solution can be developed and implemented as well as addressing certain concerns," Griffo said.

"My position on the tax issue has been that there should be clear support for this within all jurisdictions of St. Lawrence County, including the county government, town, village and local governments, and the people of St. Lawrence County," he said.

But first, he said, the county should be audited by the state comptroller's office.

"I believe there must be a demonstration of solid, prudent fiscal management as well as a well-developed, realistic plan ensuring that the people of the county are receiving property tax relief," he said.

Griffo emphasized that the audit is a suggestion and not a condition of his support.

Griffo is also suggesting a fiscal advisory committee that would do an independent review of the county budget. That committee, he said, would be made up of professionals from the private sector.
 

The full text of his letter follows:

St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators
48 Court Street
Canton, New York 13617

Dear Members of the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators,

As a result of Governor Cuomo’s recent statements indicating an alteration in position and St. Lawrence County officials desire and interest in proposing a sales tax increase I would like to share my thoughts on the issue.

My position on the tax issue has been that there should be clear support for this within all jurisdictions of St. Lawrence County, including the county government, town, village and local governments, and the people of St. Lawrence County. I have, in fact, sponsored legislation that would give the people a final voice in this issue by providing for a referendum to enable the tax, after Home Rule has been approved and granted.

As the situation in Albany changes with the softening of the Governor’s position, we can now reexamine and reconsider all requests and proposals. I am willing to continue a dialogue with the county and the people so that the right solution can be developed and implemented as well as addressing certain concerns.

Despite several actions that have allowed for savings in county government – the Tier VI pension legislation, cap on Medicaid costs, etc., St. Lawrence County appears to continue to struggle financially, and even in the five-year plan released in the context of discussion of the new tax, there continues to be an increase in property taxes. I believe there must be a demonstration of solid, prudent fiscal management as well as a well-developed, realistic plan ensuring that the people of the county are receiving property tax relief.

In this context I am suggesting the following, which are not conditions but very important suggestions which should be taken seriously for consideration and action.

A full audit from the State Comptroller’s Office, if one has not been done recently, to develop an accurate representation of the county’s finances. Any Home Rule request document should demonstrate the consensus of all governments within the county.

My understanding is that there is some disagreement among towns, villages and county as to how tax revenue would be distributed. A show of unity is important, because no one wants this tax request to create discord and dissension among governments that must function as partners.

A fiscal advisory committee should be formed form among St. Lawrence County private sector professionals that can, for the next several years, provide an outside review of budgeting, examine fiscal and budget issues, and assist county officials in meeting priority needs of the county.

The message from the people who pay taxes in Upstate and Northern New York is clear: the burden is already heavy. There is a level of due diligence required when creating or increasing a tax. I believe that the lowest possible level of taxation is best; but I also understand the urgency you and other officials express on this issue.

I fully understand the concerns of county government officials, and I am willing to work with you, while ensuring that the people of the county share the same level of support for the increased tax and that the overall burden on taxpayers is not increased.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter.
 
Sincerely,
 
Joseph A. Griffo
Senator

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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