Northern New York residents continue to carefully navigate the uncertainties of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Of all 10 regions in the state, the north country has the highest seven-day average positivity rate at 5.6% as of Sunday, according to the New York dashboard. Central New York has the second highest rate at 5.2%, and Mohawk Valley the third highest rate at 4.9%.
In the north country, 69.7% of all adults have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccination. In addition, 63% of all adults have completed their vaccine series.
These numbers are troubling. We’re on the verge of embarking on another winter while dealing with seasonal illnesses along with COVID-19.
If there’s some good news to document, it’s that consumer confidence throughout New York seems to have picked up this year. The office of state comptroller Thomas DiNapoli reported this last month:
“Local government sales tax collections in August were 15.5% higher than they were during the same period in 2020, making it the fifth consecutive month that collections exceeded 2020 results, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced [Sept. 14]. Statewide, local collections totaled more than $1.5 billion, up nearly $204 million from August of last year,” according to a Sept. 15 news release. “The double-digit growth in local sales taxes are notable in comparison to the fairly weak collections reported during August 2020 when sales activity was recovering in certain parts of the state from the early effects of the pandemic. Still, August 2021 total collections were strong even when compared to the figures reported during pre-pandemic levels, growing 6.5%, or nearly $93 million, over August of 2019. New York City’s collections totaled almost $623 million, an increase of 7.9% or more than $45 million compared to August 2020. Every county outside of New York City saw year-over-year collections for August grow by double digits, ranging from 12.6% in Herkimer County to 76.3% in Delaware County.”
From January through August, Franklin County’s sales tax grew by 22.5% over the same period in 2020. Clinton County’s sales tax increased by 24.2%, Essex County by 28%, Jefferson County by 30.4%, Lewis County by 24.5%, Oswego County by 16.1% and St. Lawrence County by 24.2%, according to information from the comptroller’s office.
Officials from Massena joined their colleagues in St. Lawrence County in heralding this positive development. In presenting his proposed budget for 2022 in August, Oswego Mayor William Barlow said the strong economy contributed to the fact that he didn’t need to seek a tax increase or use reserve funds.
Given the uptick in business activity over the past year, increases in sales tax revenue among Northern New York counties wasn’t surprising once safety protocols were loosened. What’s more encouraging is that these same communities have seen improved receipts over 2019.
Clinton County’s sales tax increased by 16.4% over 2019, Essex County by 21.8%, Franklin County by 24%, Jefferson County by 23.4%, Lewis County by 24.6%, Oswego County by 12.9% and St. Lawrence by 22.1%. So the economy has shown resiliency over the pandemic and continues to improve.
While acknowledging the good news, DiNapoli cautioned against undisciplined behavior.
“New York’s local governments continue to see much stronger collections in 2021 compared to last year when the pandemic kept people home,” he said in his news release. “However, it remains uncertain how recent increases in statewide infection rates will impact the economy. Local governments must continue to monitor changing economic conditions and maintain vigilance when it comes to their finances.”
DiNapoli has a valid point. We’re pleased that consumer activity picked up this year, something that benefits our communities. However, we don’t know if this trend will continue, so prudence is essential.
One thing that will help is for people to continue working to reduce the rate of infection when it comes to the coronavirus and increase the number of people who get vaccinated. A sharply rising number of cases could again bring strict measures, and this may dampen sales tax receipts. Let’s not place a cloud over one of the few bright spots we’ve had in a long time.