Board tables Ogdensburg home rule sales tax legislation

Ogdensburg City Hall. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators on Monday night tabled a resolution in support of the city’s home rule legislation that would allow it to collect up to an additional 1% of sales tax revenue within the city limits.

Legislator David W. Forsythe, R-Lisbon, proposed the resolution, which was tabled until the board’s next Finance Committee meeting on July 26. Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, proposed the tabling of the resolution with a second from Legislator Harold A. Smithers II, R-Gouverneur.

“This is another one of these come lately resolutions,” Mr. Lightfoot said prior to asking the board to table the resolution. “There is no big rush to do this.

“I think that there could be unintended consequences,” he added. “I will be voting against it.”

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, shared Mr. Lightfoot’s viewpoint, adding, “I won’t be support (the resolution) either.”

“Painfully, there appears to be no end in sight to the destructive campaign of greed led by Mr. Acres and Mr. Lightfoot and supported by the entire Democratic caucus of the County Legislature,” City Manager Stephen P. Jellie wrote in an email Wednesday. “Truly, these two men and their Democratic alliance believe they know best how to manage all of the money and their relentless pursuit to control all the money has no boundaries.

“Mr. Acres, Mr. Lightfoot, combined with their cloaked allegiance to the Democratic caucus, continue to stand firmly in objection to other key initiatives that will potentially save the City millions of dollars over the next 5 years, fuel the revival of the City and reinvent local government to function more efficiently,” Mr. Jellie continued. “Those progressive initiative proposals call for the streamlining of property tax collection and the consolidation of the City Police Department with the County Sheriff’s Department, neither of which fit into Mr. Acres and Mr. Lightfoot’s agenda of protecting the past and isolating the County empire.

“The City of Ogdensburg will continue to call on the St. Lawrence County Legislature to empower the County Administrator, without restraint, to work proactively to serve the best interest of the taxpayers of the City of Ogdensburg ... Mayor Skelly’s warning of significant cuts in City personnel are not exaggerated if Mr. Acres and Mr. Lightfoot continue to prevent the City of Ogdensburg from fully realizing its independence to collect sales tax funds that originate in the City, and consistently block every initiative to reform local government to function more efficiently,” Mr. Jellie wrote.

Mr. Forsythe said while proposing the resolution that in 2013, when the county sought home rule legislation to collect an additional 1% of sales tax revenue, “the city supported us wholeheartedly.”

“I would just like to pay it back,” Mr. Forsythe added.

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 passed 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, Ogdensburg had home rule legislation introduced in both chambers of the Legislature — 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, if passed, would have allowed them 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.

Legislator James E. Reagan, R-Ogdensburg, echoed Mr. Forsythe’s comments in support of the city’s efforts and reminded the board that many fellow legislators “wanted the city of Ogdensburg to pre-empt, so they are.”

“I think it is very important that we support the city’s efforts in this home rule situation because when our sales tax comes up for renewal,” Mr. Reagan continued, “it will be important that we don’t have a problem in the state Legislature where they say, ‘You people need to work things out with the city.’”

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. The city and county had been going back and forth for nearly two years before the county Board of Legislators ultimately shot down city officials earlier this year as they were seeking an extension of the current sharing formula to further examine long-term options, including pre-empting — the process of a city collecting its own sales tax.

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 earlier this year as the county 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 Ogdensburg is the only city in the county, it is therefore the only municipality with state-granted authority to negotiate the sales tax distribution formula with the county.

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 earlier this month 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, according to County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle.

But if the city is eventually 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.

Mr. Jellie said the city plans to have the same home rule legislation introduced next legislative session.

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(1) comment

Earlybird

Skelly, Jellie and Company should have tried working with the County, instead of bashing them, when they took over the City. But they treat every entity with so much disrespect, no-one wants to work with them. Their own City Employees are leaving right and left due to their bully abuse. The end result is all Citizens of Ogdensburg will suffer.

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