MAYVILLE - Chautauqua County is holding off its call to Albany to raise its sales tax rate. At least for now.
But if previous attempts are any indication, the request might be dead in the water anyway.
During their full-body meeting Wednesday, the County Legislature voted unanimously to table a resolution that would have set in motion a process to raise the county's sale tax rate to 8.25 percent. The current rate sits at 7.5 percent.
The resolution is being sponsored by County Executive Greg Edwards and Legislator Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk. The same tax hike proposal passed Administrative Services and Audit and Control committee meetings last week.
Edwards asked the legislature to table the resolution due to pending legislation on the matter in the state Senate and Assembly. If approved by state lawmakers, local municipalities could have more control setting their own sales tax rate.
But if no such bill is approved in Albany, the county would need to request any sales tax increase above the 7 percent threshold.
The decision to table was met with some applause.
"I'm glad the county executive has decided to table the motion to raise the sales tax rate," said Vince DeJoy, Jamestown council member, during the legislature's comment period. "I'm sure it will rear its head again."
DeJoy also criticized Edwards' push to eliminate the county's "hold harmless" payments to towns, villages and cities. The councilman read an editorial printed in the OBSERVER in May, which also questioned the merits of cutting the yearly payments.
"I think this whole argument of 'hold harmless' has been misleading and it needs to stop," DeJoy said.
The county executive, however, expressed frustration over the lack of knowledge on the payments. He noted that as energy taxes were eliminated, county payments to local municipalities remained.
That's $2.1 million of county money lost every year, Edwards said, noting that energy tax revenues funded local governments.
"So anyway you want to calculate that or spin you put on that as (DeJoy) did tonight," Edwards said, "you can't spin the fact that it is demanded and required in the legislation that we keep them at the same level they were prior to the cost being cut on the county."
If passed at the county level, the resolution to raise the sales tax rate would need to be carried to the state Legislature by state Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua County. For any chance of success on the state level, both representatives must be on board.
However, Young has already made it clear no such tax increase would be brought to the state capital floor.
"There's no chance for it to pass," the Senator said in a recent interview on raising the sale tax rate. "That's not just me, that's the majority of the Senate. The Senate has taken a stance against any tax increases."
Goodell would not rule out carrying the resolution to Albany, however, he stopped short of voicing his support for a tax increase. Instead, Goodell said he would turn to local officials for their guidance.
"There are a lot of advantages and disadvantages of a sales tax increase," Goodell said recently. "Personally, of course, my (intention) is to reduce the costs of government at every level, state and federal. As a state representative, I look to the local officials for their personal guidance in their particular municipality. The objection of government is to cut the costs of every taxpayer and implement a tax structure that is fair and balanced."
In the meantime, Majority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, was glad to see the resolution put on hold. Mrs. Cornell has refused to support any measure that would increase taxes to county residents.
"We're thrilled," Cornell said after the legislature meeting. "This is a victory for the taxpayers. This is a victory for families and businesses in Chautauqua County that are struggling to make ends meat and struggling under a staggering economy."