Legislature leader: too much uncertainty from state for county to consider sharing more sales tax right now

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 April 2023 at 3:44 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: Orleans County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson speaks at last week’s Legislature meeting in Albion.

ALBION – Orleans County legislators are well aware of the effort among towns and villages in the county to receive more of the local sales tax.

But uncertainty with the state budget – the potential cost shifts and added expenses to the county – have the Legislature in a guarded position with finances, said County Legislature Chairwoman Lynne Johnson.

“Until the governor’s budget goes through we’re in limbo,” Johnson said during last week’s meeting of the Orleans County Association of Municipalities.

The county could see a $1 million hit in Medicaid expenses if the state opts to keep all of the federal funding used to help pay for that program. Those federal funds have helped prevent a cost spike in Medicaid from the county in recent years. But county officials say it could be a $1,059,034 hit to the county budget, resulting in a tax increase locally of 7.5 percent.

Hochul also is proposing to increase the hourly rate for assigned council from $75 to $119 an hour.  This would cost the County approximately $200,000 per year.

“I don’t want you to think we’re hoarding the sales tax,” Johnson told the town and village officials last week.

The local sales tax revenue has increased significantly in recent years with online sales being taxed and inflation fueling more in sales tax collections.

The county took in $22.5 million in local sales tax in 2022, up by $4.8 million or by 27 percent from the $17.7 million in 2019.

The 10 towns and four villages have been frozen at $1,366,671 since 2001. That year there was a small increase after the town and village share hadn’t been changed since 1996.

Many of the towns and villages have passed resolutions asking the Legislature to boost the percentage given to the villages and towns to at least the 14 percent in 1996. That year the local sales tax was $9,499,138. It has more than doubled since then.

To get to 14 percent of $22.5 million, the county would have to increase the amount to towns and villages to $3,150,000 – a $1,783,329 increase.

The towns and villages say the added revenue is needed to help them offset rising expenses and maintain services, without putting it all on the property tax.

Johnson said some of the money has been used by the county to get caught up on infrastructure projects, from the county buildings to maintaining roads and bridges. This year’s infrastructure budget is a record for the county at $19 million.