Taxing situation

Why do they call it “the Dollar Store” when it really costs $1.08? Sales tax.

I came up with the idea of a true “dollar store:” Charge 92 cents, add the tax and bingo! A dollar store. Nobody bought it.

Meanwhile, sales tax is in the news, and they’re not talking about just pennies on the dollar. For the state, which collects four cents for every sales tax-related dollar spent, to the county, which adds another four percent on purchases, to the city of Kingston, which under contract with the county gets 11.5 percent of overall county collections, they’re talking big bucks from this so-called “harmless tax”. The 23 towns and three villages get the crumbs, squat, which is to say just three percent of overall county sales tax receipts.

Why should the city, with just 13 percent of county population be entitled almost four times the sales taxes collected in the entire county? Preemptive rights.

Back in the late ‘60s, former Kingston Mayor Ray Garraghan was able to convince the Common Council to levy a modest 2 percent sales tax on things sold in Kingston. By doing so, the city, by state law, was given “preemptive rights,” meaning the county was required to negotiate with the city in order to   enact a county-wide sales tax. That virtual inevitability (the big-spending county and the city was living large on its sales tax) came about 10 years later.  

That agreement, since renewed at least half a dozen times, is up for renewal next year. The towns, which may get a seat at the table as a non-voting observer, have already begun to apply pressure.

New Paltz Village Mayor Tim Rogers, for instance, made headlines last week by protesting a proposal by developers of the $50 million Kingstonian condo/commercial complex for a break on sales taxes amounting to some $700,000. Residents of Kingston might suggest the mayor of New Paltz mind his own business, but as Rogers sees it, sales taxes are everybody’s business. Giving Kingston $700,000 in sales tax relief means that money won’ be available to the county and the towns.

Keep in mind that no matter the amount collected or forgiven, the towns and villages get only three percent. In New Paltz, The Kingstonian deal might cost the town a few hundred bucks.

No, Rogers is agitating for something much, much larger for his town and the rest of rural Ulster, a bigger piece of the sales tax pie, not just the crust, a thicker slice of that $120 million loaf, not just crumbs.

Having observed this passion play since its inception, I think the towns need to tread carefully.

Sales taxes are and have been since inception more than 40 years ago the county’s leading source of revenue. And that revenue stream, which seemed to almost automatically increase every year, is under serious pressure due to the virus. Likewise the city, which means neither party will be inclined to share more of its dwindling revenues with the towns. These are hard times. Charity usually begins at home, and stays there.

This is not to say that the towns, if they stick together, won’t be able to squeeze some relief from the county, only that it won’t be happening under current fiscal conditions.

HERE AND THERE – My former colleague and sometimes golfing instructor, Rick Remsnyder, will be retiring this month as county tourism director after an 11-year run.

Rick’s has been a noteworthy career, first as an award-winning Freeman sports writer, then lead golf writer for a group of Westchester County newspapers – the man covered the PGA! Live! – and then as county tourism director. Under Remsnyder, county tourism increased dramatically. Rick’s will be big shoes to fill…size 14EEE. His successor is at this point a state secret.

In other media news, Dan Barton and Jesse Smith, late of the defunct Kingston Times, will launch a website later this month to be called Kingston Wire. The duo, among the best journalists I’ve worked with, will issue daily updates on breaking local news. In this case, new shoes won’t be necessary; the talented duo will be doing what came so naturally after more than ten years at the Times.

And finally. Under the heading of civic contributions, Ron Woods, a city recreation commissioner for generations, Alderman Steve Schabot and Jim Donovan, a retired stone mason, recently planted flowers at Block Park, (at the Frank Sass site), and at veterans’ memorials at Dietz Stadium and Cornell Park. A retired school teacher, Woods has been a generous contributor to numerous worthy causes, most notably the Ron Woods Tennis Complex at Forsyth Park.