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Senate passes home rule legislation,

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The state Senate passed long-awaited home rule legislation in the small hours of Saturday morning that will allow St. Lawrence County to raise its sales tax.

The Senate approved the bill just before 5 a.m. Saturday as it wrapped up the legislative session.

The state Assembly approved the legislation June 14, so approval from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is all that remains before county leaders can increase the tax from 3 to 4 percent, which, along with the state’s 4 percent, would bring the total sales tax to 8 percent.

If Mr. Cuomo signs the bill into law, the tax increase probably will take effect in January. St. Lawrence County will join 57 of New York’s 62 counties that have received authority from Albany to raise their rate.

In exchange for a higher sales tax, county leaders have promised to cut property tax rates by 14 percent in the first year of a five-year financial plan if the sales tax rate goes up.

“It will allow us to enact the biggest property tax cut in county history,” said county Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington. The cut will undo the largest property tax increase in county history, a nearly 14 percent hike this year.

According to Mr. Putney, the sales tax increase will spread the cost among everyone who comes to the county, rather than just property owners.

“It makes sense if you have the cost of government paid for by the college students, tourists, Canadians and others, rather than putting the cost on county residents,” he said.

The financial plan was essential to gain the support of state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, who said she would not feel justified promoting a sales tax increase unless savings elsewhere were passed on to taxpayers.

“We asked them to go back and come up with a plan,” she said.

Despite the county’s pledge to reduce property taxes, Ms. Ritchie said, she still hopes it will explore other options before choosing to raise the sales tax.

“I still think they should look into ways to cut wherever they can before they do this,” she said Saturday.

Not everyone supports the county’s plan. Although state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, voted for the home-rule legislation, he urged county leaders to reduce property taxes over the next few years, rather than all at once.

“If the governor approves this home-rule bill, then I think it’s incumbent upon the St. Lawrence County legislature to look to immediately plan a way to reduce the property tax burden in a fiscally responsible way that reduces the rate over a regular set amount over the next three years,” he said in a statement Saturday. “This will avoid roller-coaster budgeting.”

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