By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO January 26, 2007 They’ve got Gunther.
The Sullivan County Legislature’s proposed sales tax increase of half a percent failed last year because of lack of support.
But Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther told the Democrat Thursday she won’t stand in the way of the hike’s introduction to the state legislature.
“I don’t like taxes,” she said, “but an important caveat to this is the fact that this will sunset in two years.”
Gunther said she and other officials have “tricks up our sleeves” to increase revenues for Sullivan County in the years to come, casinos or no casinos.
“We don’t know what lies in the future of Sullivan County,” she said.
Gunther’s nod to the county proposal came on the heels of Wednesday’s resolution from the Sullivan County Association of Supervisors which put its stamp of approval on the tax increase.
With 11 of the county’s 15 supervisors in attendance, the Association of Supervisors voted in favor of hiking the tax from 7.5 percent to 8 percent.
The vote was unanimous, with only the supervisors of the towns of Cochecton, Rockland, Thompson and Tusten absent (because of timing).
Chairman John LiGreci, who also heads up the county’s Republican party, said he couldn’t support the tax hike a year ago because he saw little benefit to the towns.
Although other counties have a revenue sharing program in place that splits the proceeds of a sales tax between the county and towns, the Sullivan County Legislature had put the kibosh on that idea.
When the association of supervisors said no last year, Gunther and fellow state representative John Bonacic followed suit.
But when the proposal was broached again, this time by new County Manager David Fanslau, LiGreci said he found the hike more palatable in its presentation.
Fanslau said the county could put restrictions on where and how the money would be spent, delineating four areas of the county budget that need a revenue boost.
That will include an approximately $3 million allocation to the county’s fund balance in anticipation of bonding next year to build a county jail (more money set aside means a better bond rating for the county, which in and of itself will create a savings for the county), $1 million to make improvements within the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department, and another $1 million for the Department of Public Works for road maintenance.
An additional $1 million will be set aside for flood mitigation, with the possibility that the county will be able to help residents in flood ravaged areas sell their homes to create open space.
LiGreci said he and his colleagues saw a benefit to the towns in this plan and they can agree the county needs to do something to make ends meet.
“The county is in desperate straits,” he noted.
Gunther gave credit to Fanslau for his presentation.
“This gentleman has created a true plan,” she said. “This is a reality budget… they have done their research.”
She also pointed to the unanimity of the supervisors’ resolution in making her own decision.
Kate Glazer, a spokesman for Senator John Bonacic, said the senator is aware of the supervisors’ decision.
“We’re going to take a look at it,” she said, citing a timing conflict with the constant flurry of activity in anticipation of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s release of a state budget proposal.
Glazer said Bonacic will be communicating with the Sullivan County Legislature regarding the matter in the near future.
If granted, the approval of both of the state lawmakers is tantamount to approval by the state legislature as a whole.
That said, the proposal is still subject to the state’s approval before it can be put into effect.