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Nassau legislative leader declines to meet over sales taxes

Nassau’s presiding officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) says it is too soon to call a meeting of the county legislature’s Budget Review Committee to examine dropping sales tax revenues.

In a letter Thursday to Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), Gonsalves said “No real trend can be determined until at least the middle of May” in regard to county sales taxes.

Abrahams had asked Gonsalves to call an emergency meeting of the committee after Nassau Comptroller George Maragos and other county finance officials reported last week that sales taxes were down 14.8 percent for the first three months the year — $35.3 million less than the same period last year. Maragos recommended the county revise its sales tax projections for the year downward by $70 million. But any drop in projected sales tax collections will put a crimp in county plans to use excess sales taxes to help pay for amended union agreements that would lift an employee wage freeze.

Abrahams said the committeee should determine what effect declining sales tax collections will have on the county’s ability to pay its expenses. “Time is of the essence,” he wrote.

But Gonsalves said sales tax collections prior to April this year had been up by nearly nine percent. “As you know, or should know, I take the responsibility of leadership of the legislature most seriously,” she wrote. “When and if a meeting is needed for this or any other purpose I will be happy to call for one.”

Nassau sales tax collections through March were up 8.8 percent, based on estimates of economic activity in the county by the state Department of Taxation and Finance. But the trend reversed in April. The county received another estimated check on April 4, which was 10.5 percent less than last year’s check, bringing the county’s net sales tax growth to 1.9 percent, the legislature's budget review office reported on April 4.

On April 11, Nassau received a "quarterly adjustment" check from the state, which reconciles previous estimated distributions. It was down dramatically, with the county collecting $203 million this year compared with $238.3 million for the same period last year. Another adjustment check is due May 12.

Counties throughout the state are seeing disappointing sales tax collections, according to the New York State Association of Counties.

The association reported Wednesday that “sales tax revenues for the first quarter of 2014 show no sign of an economic turnaround. In fact, 27 counties saw their sales tax revenues reduced over the previous quarter (the last quarter of 2013).

"We are concerned because many counties are relying more and more on sales tax revenues to help pay for local quality of life services and also to support state programs." said NYSAC President Mark Alger, Steuben County Manager, in a news release.

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