Rockland's sales tax revenue drops; Westchester's up

Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. (May 10, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. (May 10, 2012) Photo Credit: Handout

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In yet another hit to cash-strapped Rockland County, sales tax collections are on the decline.

Rockland's sales tax revenue edged down 0.81 percent in the second quarter of 2012 from the same period one year ago, according to estimates from the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Ron Levine, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef's spokesman, attributed the declining revenue to recession-wary consumers and a loss of business from the Nanuet Mall, which closed down in February.

"Overall we believe that we're going to weather the storm and next year, when they rebuild the mall, it's going to be a lot better," he said. "We aren't reliant on sales tax, but we sure could use it."

The county's sales tax collections for the first half of the year are estimated at $84 million, according to state figures. That's $776,614 less than the same period in 2011, or a 0.92 percent drop.

Like many counties, Rockland's sales tax revenue has been on the decline since 2008 -- following several years of gains -- as consumers have kept a tight hold on their purse strings amid a sluggish economy.

The county collects an average of $170 million a year in sales tax proceeds, and keeps about 94 percent of the collections, with the remainder going to the towns. The county's current rate is 8.375 percent.

Last year, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli criticized the county for overestimating sales tax and other revenues, suggesting the practice forced the county to borrow money to meet operating expenses and contributed to the cumulative budget deficit, which is currently estimated at $95 million.

Rockland officials had been pushing for an increase to the county sales tax to back a $80 million bond to pay down the long-term deficit. But the Republican-controlled Senate refused to take up the request.

State Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) said the data "confirms that Rockland County cannot rely upon a sales tax increase to fix its long-term budgetary problems. This is why I staunchly opposed raising the sales tax from the start because short-term gimmicks just won't add up," he said in statement.

Carlucci was criticized by county officials for refusing to back the sales tax increase and deficit bond.

By comparison, Westchester County and New York City's sale tax collections increased, albeit slightly, during the same period, according to state figures. Westchester's sales tax revenue grew 0.19 percent in the second quarter while New York City's sales tax collections grew 2.79 percent from a year ago.

Nassau County experienced even more robust growth in the second quarter with a 4.36 percent increase.

Statewide, collections were $2.81 billion for the second quarter in 2012 compared with $2.79 in 2011, an increase of 0.63 percent.

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