By Jeanne Sager
SULLIVAN COUNTY June 6, 2003 Businesspeople throughout the county found out this week what its like to be the last to know.
The sales tax increase thats been hyped for more than a year now officially went into effect on June 1, but dozens of companies from Callicoon to Monticello said theyd 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 wasnt for my accountant who sent out notices to all of his clients, I probably wouldnt have known, he said. If we were someone who had their head in the sand, someone who didnt have a newspaper, this could have passed us by and we wouldnt have even known about this.
Canal Towne sells a limited amount of clothing, and because they havent received notice from the state, they dont 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 wasnt until Monday because we didnt have time, Holmes noted. It happened on a Sunday when everyone is off.
Im sure a lot of business havent changed their registers, he continued.
Those who had were none too happy.
We had to reset our register, said Kris Schluer, owner of Jeffersonvilles 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 arent the only ones facing a challenge.
Roches 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 doesnt 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.
Weve known about it, Roche continued, everyones been talking about it but its not going to help anything, thats 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 didnt want to get involved because its 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 theyve 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.