Thursday, July 25, 2024

Washington Co. eyes 1% hike in sales tax saying it could ease property tax

By Caroline Martindale, Chronicle Staff Writer

Washington County is considering a plan to raise the county sales tax by 1% as a means to mitigate property taxes.

The Board of Supervisors was presented an impact report of raising the sales tax rate from 7% to 8% during the April 11 Finance Committee meeting.

Currently only four counties in the state — Washington, Warren, Saratoga and Ontario — have sales tax rates under 8%. The rate is 7% in Washington, Warren and Saratoga counties.

In Ontario it’s 7.5%, but Washington County Chairman Robert Henke says Ontario is currently raising its rate to 8%.

Mr. Henke, the Argyle town supervisor, explains, “We are trying to figure out a way to drop the property taxes. Now it’s supplementing one tax for another. The thing about sales tax is at least it’s controllable.”

Finance Chair Brian Campbell says, “With us having a very aging community with fixed incomes, we were trying to find a way we could lower property tax and still have money to survive as a county, with the idea that we want to sustain the lowered tax going forward.”

Mr. Henke says, “It’s probably going to be creating less of an increase over the years as opposed to being a significant drop. But if we did it, we might see in five years the tax rate only having gone up two or three percent as opposed to ten percent.”

“That’s what we’re hoping,” said Mr. Campbell. “Because there are so many unknowns I don’t know if that’s feasible, but that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s at least got to be ten [years], but I’m hoping that it can be closer to twenty before we’re back to thirty-seven to forty billion dollars and change to our levy.”

Town of Kingsbury Supervisor Mr. Hogan, who opposed the vote, was less optimistic about the property tax rates staying lower for a decade or more.

“I would predict that in a matter of years, our property tax levels will be right back where they were, and now we’re imposing an 8 percent sales tax on residents,” he said.

However, the increase may be inevitable. The idea is raised every three or four years, said Mr. Henke and Mr. Campbell.

“The easiest thing to do is vote no and be done, and it would be on the burner in 3-4 years,” said Mr. Campbell.

However, he said, with future revenue generating projects like the CHPE electric line, the county could sustain a reduced property tax better if they act now.

The timeline for raising the rate is unpredictable. “We’re under the thumb of our legislators. It would take a change to the state law to do it,” said Mr. Henke. “If we got it going now it probably wouldn’t pass until the next legislative session and then would take effect the following year.”

At the meeting the Board voted to discuss the tax with Warren and Saratoga counties. Changing a county sales tax requires a change to the state law. It was suggested that if all three raise the rate together, it stands a better chance of passing in the New York State Legislature.

Asked if Washington County would move forward with only one county’s support, Mr. Henke replied, “We are still running numbers, but since at present it seems like the only way to lower the property tax burden in the county, absent any mandate relief from the state, probably.”

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