County Executive’s sales tax plan shot down

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NEW CITY – Legislators rejected a proposal by Rockland County Executive Ed Day to increase local sales taxes at Monday’s meeting. Lawmakers said such a hike was premature and that many other options needed to be reviewed before increasing what some described as the most regressive of taxes.

“Many people have lost their jobs or had their hours cut, but they still need to make necessary purchases,” Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe said. “Increasing the sales tax on those purchases at this time would serve to make things even harder for these families and for the businesses that could see fewer customers as a result.”

Legislator Wolfe said county government should focus on economic development, including finding ways to incentivize new businesses into Rockland County versus imposing a tax increase that may send more shoppers to Bergen County, N.J., where sales tax is lower.

Legislators voted 9-8 against the resolution, which sought to obtain home rule approval from the New York State Legislature granting Rockland the authority to increase its local sales tax by one-half of one percent. The Governor would also have to sign the measure into law.

Legislator Wolfe said more details are needed on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown on Rockland’s economy, including specifics about sales tax shortfalls, and whether the federal government will act to provide relief to struggling municipalities across the country.

Wolfe noted that many tools are available to the County Executive as he formulates his proposed 2021 Budget, the financial plan that will guide the coming year’s governmental operations, including programs and services to be carried out or cut, anticipated revenues and expenditures, and capital projects to be pursued, among other business.

A sales tax increase isn’t the only way to bridge a revenue shortfall. Options to the County Executive could include eliminating the 100-plus currently vacant positions in county government, renegotiating vendor contracts, concessions from unions, furloughs, and a property tax increase.

The County Executive submitted three resolutions to the Legislature, including the sales tax item. He also wanted the Legislature to allow him to submit his proposed 2021 spending plan by October 23 instead of October 1, the date set by the Rockland County Charter. The budget resolution was deemed not to be legal as the Legislature does not have that authority.

The County Executive also wanted the Legislature to declare the Sain property as surplus, deeming it no longer needed for public use and authorizing its sale by public advertisement. Legislator Wolfe said it will be placed on a future agenda. The item had already been scheduled for discussions earlier this year, but the effort was halted by the pandemic.

Several legislators who voted against the sales tax resolution said they remained open-minded about the idea but first wanted to review the County Executive’s proposed financial plan for 2021 and to see what relief may come from the federal government.

“We still have no idea what the federal government will do to help communities across America, but we all hope they will provide some relief,” Wolfe said. “Like the County Executive, we would prefer to wait until we have more updated financial information before making a decision on increasing the sales tax or any other tax.”  Wolfe added, “It’s provocative to threaten 200 layoffs of county workers as its only one of the myriad options available to the County Executive in preparing his 2021 budget.”

County Executive Day said “I am extremely disappointed by last night’s complete lack of action by the Democratic Majority members of the Rockland County Legislature. Their vote of disapproval on the financial plan we submitted now puts at risk hundreds of County employees jobs and raises the specter of a double-digit property tax increase.”  Day continued, saying “Passage of my plan would have likely resulted in a 2021 County Budget with no layoffs and no property tax increase, but these are the dire alternatives we now face because of their vote and lack of action.”