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The Upstate Economy

Cheap gas and long winter means less sales tax for Jefferson County

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Jefferson County's sales tax revenue continues to decline. It's down 5 percent from this time last year.

We all know that every time we buy something in a store we pay a percentage of the cost of that item in tax. That sales tax goes toward helping the county pay for anything from road repairs to staffing the local police departments. For the past two years, the money that Jefferson County earns through sales tax has been in a slow decline. County legislators are getting worried after seeing an even bigger drop at the beginning of the year.

Remember when gas prices first started to drop? Most people are still psyched about cheaper gas, unless you're Jefferson County Legislator Scott Gray.

“That’s good news to the consumer that the fuel prices are 3o percent lower than they were last year but on the flip side that means less collections in terms of sales tax," Gray says.

Gray says he is worried about the decline in sales tax in the county.

Gray can only guess why fewer people are out shopping. The Canadian dollar is much weaker now. Canadians shopping in the U.S. lose about 20 cents for every dollar they spend here. That means many are probably thinking twice before crossing the border to shop. And Gray says the long cold winter definitely didn’t help.

“When we have temperatures like they were in February, a lot of people aren’t out moving, not out buying,” Gray said.

Gray points out sales tax is the main source of revenue for the city of Watertown and other small villages and towns around the county. “Anytime we have a decrease it is represented in the city’s finances," he said.

Watertown is in the middle of trying to balance its own budget. They are also planning a multi-million dollar arena renovation, but Watertown Mayor Jeffery Graham says he’s not worried.

“The city’s finances are pretty good right now. I think for this year things are not too objectionable,” Graham said.

When everything shakes out, Graham said the residents of Watertown will likely have to pay more property tax to make up for the drop in sales tax revenue. The increase will be close to two percent.