St. Lawrence and Lewis counties see sales tax increase

North country counties saw an increase in first-quarter sales tax receipts, with Lewis County seeing a particularly big jump following a return to more typical winter weather.

“I attribute it to the snow,” said Lewis County Treasurer Patricia L. O’Brien, whose county saw a 5.9 percent hike. “We didn’t have snow last year, and this year we did.”

On a 3.75 percent sales tax rate, the county received $2,396,615.29 in sales tax payments from January through March, up $132,583 from $2,264,032.26 during that same period last year.

Meanwhile, in St. Lawrence County, which has a 3 percent rate, first-quarter sales taxes rose slightly, from $10,094,382.53 to $10,282,041.06. The increase of $187,688.53 represented a hike of 1.9 percent.

“We are always pleased to see an increase in sales tax, not only the tax itself, but because it indicates there is economic activity going on and that people are hopeful,” County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Following an unseasonably warm winter a year ago that played havoc with the Tug Hill region’s lucrative snowmobile industry, Lewis County’s 2012 first-quarter receipts dipped by 1.3 percent over the prior year.

However, with snow again covering the ground for much of this winter, that figure has rebounded.

“It was good for business for us,” Mrs. O’Brien said.

Receipts from the county’s hotel occupancy tax, also known as bed tax, also seem to bear out the treasurer’s theory.

After $24,806 in the first three months of 2011, first-quarter bed tax receipts dropped to $17,894 last year before rising to $28,714 this year, according to figures provided by Mrs. O’Brien.

Anne L. Merrill, executive director at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce, said some owners of snow-dependent businesses have reported that the winter, while much better than last year, still was not exceptional. However, she said she has spoken with only a relatively small sampling thus far.

Meanwhile, Ms. St. Hilaire attributed part of her county’s increase to anecdotal reports that more Canadians are shopping in the county.

“If more Canadians are coming over, we’d certainly welcome that,” said St. Lawrence County Legislative Chairman Jonathan S. Putney, D-Waddington. “I’d love to know if that was a factor.”

The increase is a positive sign, Mr. Putney said.

“Certainly, any additional sales tax revenue can be used to decrease property taxes and maintain services,” he said.

Jefferson County also saw an increase in first-quarter sales tax receipts, but only by 0.9 percent.

Lewis County retains all its receipts for county government operations, while St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties distribute a percentage of sales tax receipts to their cities, towns and villages.

-Steve Virkler and Martha Ellen, Watertown Daily Times staff writers