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Jefferson County projects $1.5 million sales tax deficit

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WATERTOWN — Jefferson County is facing a $1.5 million budget shortfall by the end of the year based on first-quarter sales tax collections, according to county Legislator Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, chairman of the Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee.

The county collected $7,415,107 in the first quarter — 2.68 percent less than it collected during the same period in 2013.

Mr. Gray said weather may have played a role in the disappointing returns, as residents may have decided to divert discretionary funds toward paying for necessities such as heating.

Last year, the county had a $700,000 shortfall in its sales tax take, and the revenue has been sliding for the past two years, according to earlier statements by Mr. Gray.

“We were outperforming the state in 2010, ’11 and ’12, and now we are lagging. A reason for concern — yes certainly,” Mr. Gray told legislators in January.

The board voted to keep sales tax projections flat this year, budgeting the same amount of money from the fund for its operations as it had in 2013, when it had previously projected a slight increase in sales tax revenue to help meet rising costs across its departments.

The falling revenue threatens to upset a delicate balance that sees legislators using money from the reserve fund balance sparingly, if at all.

According to Mr. Gray, if his projections are accurate, as they have proven to be in the past, the county will face the difficult prospect of either cutting services somehow or raising taxes.

“We’re really headed for some tough decisions,” Mr. Gray said.

Earlier this month, the New York state Commission of Correction issued a report that would require the county to hire five additional corrections officers over the next two years, a mandate that will further complicate the county’s position, according to Mr. Gray.

Mr. Gray said the board typically evaluates its position halfway through the year to determine whether it will be able to make a budget based on its sales tax revenue.

“At that point it would take a monumental turnaround to overcome that deficit,” Mr. Gray said.

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