Jefferson County legislators will have to make a compelling case if they want Sen. Patty Ritchie's support for a 7.75 percent sales tax rate.
"I'm not especially supportive of any kind of tax increases, but the extension is a little bit different matter," the freshman senator said Thursday. "I'm looking forward to talking to country officials."
Shoppers have paid an extra 0.75 percent on the 7 percent base sales tax here since 2005. The extra bit was worth $10.6 million last year, according to Jefferson County Legislature Vice Chairman Mike Docteur.
"This Jefferson County Legislature has been very reluctant to raise the property tax," said the legislator. "We've been able to maintain a stable tax levy, in part, due to an increase in sales tax revenue."
If the county were to lose the extra collection, Docteur said the tax levy would need to increase 23 percent to maintain current spending levels.
"It would just be an impossible burden on our constituents," he said. "If I were in her (Ritchie's) position and someone were to come back to me and say, 'You support a tax increase for Jefferson County,' No. Essentially no. You support a tax decrease for the property tax levy."
Sales tax revenue is divided among the county, the city of Watertown and towns and villages.
Ritchie said she'd likely support the measure if it were paired with some sort of tax relief. In 2007, Sen. James W. Wright and then Assemblyman Darrel Aubertine traded their support for a tax break on home heating fuels.
Docteur said it was unlikely that such an offer would be made.
"The Jefferson County Legislature can meet the needs of its consttituents and provide tax relief where needed and really shouldn't be dictated to by anyone on how to do that," he said.
Assemblywoman Addie Russell, a former county legislator, agreed. The Theresa Democrat does not believe that state lawmakers should block home-rule legislation that the county believes is in their best interest, according to her chief of staff, Mark Pacilio.
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush said he would also support the measure, adding that the 7.75 percent rate is still one of the lowest statewide. As a past county Legislature chairman, Blankenbush said he understand how sales tax can be used to lower the property tax rate and tax levy.
He added: "We really don't know how deep the cuts are going to be for municipalities in the state budget."