CANTON — Following an hour-long discussion, St. Lawrence County legislators on Monday night voted against a resolution in support of Ogdensburg’s home rule legislation that would allow the city to collect up to an additional 1% of sales tax revenue.
Legislator David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon, proposed the resolution at the full county Board of Legislators meeting on July 12, but it was tabled until the board’s next Finance Committee meeting, which was Monday night. Mr. Forsythe successfully motioned to remove his resolution from the table Monday night, yet the resolution had no further luck in the Finance Committee as legislators ultimately voted 9-4 against it after back-and-fourth discussion.
“It is definitely disappointing,” Ogdensburg Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly said Monday night after hearing that legislators voted against the resolution, “but not unexpected.”
Legislator James E. Reagan, R-Ogdensburg, once again backed Mr. Forsythe’s efforts to support Ogdensburg during the Finance Committee meeting, as he did during the July 12 full board meeting.
“I would urge all of you to put aside this continued effort to undermine Ogdensburg and undermine its ability to fund its operations and join me and join Dave (Forsythe) in supporting its right to have home rule legislation to get this bill done,” Mr. Reagan said.
In New York state — where the state constitution grants municipalities and counties the ability to pass laws to self-govern “as they see fit” — what is called a home rule bill can be presented to the state Legislature so that municipalities or counties can self-govern. Home rule legislation must first pass both houses of the Legislature before moving on to the governor’s desk for his signature.
The minimum sales tax rate in New York is 7% — with 4% going to the state and the other 3% going to the local government. But in 2013, St. Lawrence County had home rule legislation passed to collect an additional 1% of sales tax. The sales tax rate in the county has been 8% ever since — including in the city limits.
Now eight years later, lawmakers representing Ogdensburg introduced home rule legislation in both chambers of the Legislature this session — Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, introduced the bill in the Senate and Assemblyman Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, introduced an Assembly version of the same bill. Ogdensburg’s home rule bill would have allowed the city to collect up to an additional 1% of sales tax revenue within its borders.
When the legislative session ended last month, the bill had passed the Senate, but remained in the Ways and Means Committee of the Assembly and was not brought to the floor for a vote.
Ogdensburg’s home rule legislation was introduced on the heels of stalled talks between city and county officials about the city collecting its own sales tax. Talks of renegotiating a new sales tax sharing agreement between city and county officials began in 2019, but ultimately stopped as a consensus on how to move forward could not be reached.
Earlier this year, Ogdensburg asked the county to extend its current sales tax sharing agreement so it could explore other options for collecting sales tax, such as pre-empting — the process of a city collecting its own sales tax. But the county voted against extending the agreement.
The current sales tax formula calls for Ogdensburg to collect 6.44% of the first 3% of sales tax that St. Lawrence County collects, as well as 6.44% of the final 1% the county accrues. The county takes 83.56% of the last 1%, while towns and villages get the final 10%. This is the agreement the county failed to extend as the Board of Legislators was attempting to have Ogdensburg transition to collecting the same amount of sales tax as towns and villages, which is distributed based on property value and population.
But as the only city in the county, Ogdensburg is therefore the only municipality with state-granted authority to negotiate the sales tax distribution formula with the county.
Since an updated agreement could not be reached with county officials, Ogdensburg City Council on June 14 passed a resolution declaring its official intent to move forward with the pre-emption process that was set to begin Dec. 1. The sharing agreement with the county was set to expire at the end of November.
But following many conversations with officials at the state Department of Taxation and Finance, it was determined that Ogdensburg would not be able to pre-empt until March 1, 2022, as the city had to give six-months notice. This prompted county leadership to agree to extend the current sales tax sharing agreement with the city through February 2022. The city and county also agreed to an updated sharing agreement for the final 1% of sales tax revenue as Ogdensburg’s home rule legislation did not pass this session.
The updated sharing agreement for the final 1% of sales tax revenue, also beginning March 1, 2022, will combine the 6.44% Ogdensburg is allocated with the 10% that goes to towns and villages. That total — 16.44% — will be shared with Ogdensburg, towns and villages in the county according to a 50-50 formula of assessed property value and population.
But if the city is granted its home rule legislation to collect up to an additional 1% of sales tax, the distribution of the final 1% from the county to the city will cease.
“I have seen their greed and selfishness first hand for a year and a half now,” Mayor Skelly said of St. Lawrence County legislators, specially Legislators Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, and Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, who have both staunchly voiced their disapproval of the resolution to support Ogdensburg during the July 12 full board meeting and again during the Finance Committee meeting.
“With sales tax growing, and the pot getting larger, all I can say is that wanting their share and wanting everyone else’s share reminds me of a hog,” the mayor said, adding, “this is a sad night.”
Legislators Rita A. Curran, R-Massena; William J. Sheridan, R-Hammond; Mr. Forsythe and Mr. Reagan voted in favor of the resolution, while Legislators Tony J. Arquiett, D-Helena; John H. Burke, R-Norfolk; Larry A. Denesha, R-DeKalb; Daniel G. Fay, D-Canton; Rick A. Perkins, D-Potsdam; Harry A. Smithers II, R-Gouverneur; and Nicole A. Terminelli, D-Massena; Mr. Acres and Mr. Lightfoot voted against the resolution.
Legislators Suzanne M. Fiacco, D-Norwood; and Margaret G. Haggard, D-Potsdam; did not attend the meeting Monday night.