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Sales Tax Increase?
Who Knew?

By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY — June 6, 2003 – Businesspeople throughout the county found out this week what it’s like to be the last to know.
The sales tax increase that’s been hyped for more than a year now officially went into effect on June 1, but dozens of companies from Callicoon to Monticello said they’d never heard word of what the actual figure was.
Lyman Holmes, co-owner of Canal Towne Emporium in Wurtsboro, never heard one word from the county or the state about the change.
“If it wasn’t for my accountant who sent out notices to all of his clients, I probably wouldn’t have known,” he said. “If we were someone who had their head in the sand, someone who didn’t have a newspaper, this could have passed us by and we wouldn’t have even known about this.”
Canal Towne sells a limited amount of clothing, and because they haven’t received notice from the state, they don’t know exactly how to follow the new rules regarding tax-exempt clothing and footwear. The new rule directs businesses to collect taxes on previously exempted clothing under $110.
“We have absolutely nothing to support that,” Holmes said.
And the change happened on a Sunday, he said, which was “poor planning.”
“We got one register changed, but it wasn’t until Monday because we didn’t have time,” Holmes noted. “It happened on a Sunday when everyone is off.
“I’m sure a lot of business haven’t changed their registers,” he continued.
Those who had were none too happy.
“We had to reset our register,” said Kris Schluer, owner of Jeffersonville’s one and only chocolate shop, The Three Chocolateers.
The problem, she said, is that this 7.75 percent tax usually ends up being rounded up. Folks are really being charged 8 percent, she said.
“No one has 3/4 of a penny,” Schluer noted. “So they end up coughing up a whole extra penny anyway.”
Folks who are used to plunking down $1.06 for their favorite 99 cent treat will be reaching for the give-a-penny-take-a-penny cup from now on.
But small businesses aren’t the only ones facing a challenge.
Roche’s Garage in Callicoon tried to push cars and trucks off the lot as quickly as possible before May 31.
With big-ticket items like a brand new truck, that .75 percent can equal hundreds of dollars of additional cost to a customer, said co-owner Mickey Roche.
“It makes it so hard to figure,” he added. “In my opinion, it makes it hard for everyone.”
Roche doesn’t recall where he found out that the change would go into effect on June 1.
The details of the increase have been in the papers, he said.
“We’ve known about it,” Roche continued, “everyone’s been talking about it – but it’s not going to help anything, that’s for sure.”
According to County Manager Dan Briggs, it was the responsibility of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance – not the county – to notify retailers of the increase.
“We didn’t want to get involved because it’s a state function,” he explained.
Briggs made it a point to head out Sunday morning to Wal-Mart and other area businesses to ensure that the new figure was in effect – and, in his experience, it was.
However, he added, the government center has been flooded with calls from businesses asking questions about the change.
He took information downloaded from the Internet and passed it out to the various departments of the county government that might get a call, just so they would have the answers at hand.
Taxation may not have gotten all the letters out, Briggs said, because they’ve been inundated with sales tax changes. The state sales tax itself was increased to 4.25 percent, Sullivan County added another .5 percent to bring its portion to 3.5 percent, and Dutchess, Livingston, Montgomery and Schenectady counties all upped their own tax.
The letter that was received by some area businesses, signed by Arthur Roth, commissioner of Taxation and Finance, was drafted on May 22. However, the postmark on some is after the June 1 deadline.
“As most business owners will have to reprogram their cash registers, computers and other equipment, we recognize the limited amount of time allotted by the new law to implement this sales tax increase will impose new burdens on your business for the collection and remission of the new tax,” the letter tells business owners.
“To minimize the compliance costs your business must bear, I wanted to let you know about this change as soon as possible.”
But it seems the letter arrived just a little bit too late.
A call to the state Taxpayer Contact Center number listed on the letter resulted first in no answer, then in a taped message saying all operators were busy, referring callers to a Web site, then automatically hanging up.

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