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Lawmakers OK sales-tax extension

The Niagara County Legislature voted 12-4 Monday to extend the 8 percent sales tax for another two years.

The Legislature had little choice but to do so. Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington said that if they hadn't, the result would have been a 40 percent property tax increase.

"That would be hard with a 2 percent property tax cap," County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said.

However, four legislators, three of whom are entered in primaries next month, voted no.

They were Kari Ann Bullman and Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, who are running against each other, and Brittany I. Catchpole, D-Town of Niagara. Also voting no was Legislator Renae Kimble, D-Niagara Falls.

Absent were Cheree J. Copelin, R-Niagara Falls; Richard A. Marasco, D-Niagara Falls; and Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville.

The additional 1 percentage point on the local share of the sales tax will bring in an estimated $28 million in this year, all of which the county must apply to the cost of Medicaid.

Huntington said Medicaid is expected to cost $41 million this year, so the sales tax will pay for 68 percent of that.

"I think it's time for the state to start taking some responsibility for their unfunded mandates," Bullman said.

"It's been in effect for eight years, and we have a $22 million surplus. Erie County has an 8.75 [percent] sales tax. If we went back to 7 percent, we could gain some retail sales," Virtuoso said.

"There should be a way to pay for this mandate that doesn't put a burden on the local governments," Catchpole said.