Judging from the sales tax receipts, Putnam County is facing a pretty strong economic challenge. In 2015, we were the only county in the Hudson Valley that saw sales tax collections decrease more than 3 percent. This is a distressing trend and it’s important to draw the right conclusions from the data.
Putnam’s sales tax levy is relatively high, at 8.375 percent. It’s possible to draw the conclusion that the higher tax rate is part of the problem — after all, some upstate counties like Saratoga, with its 7 percent tax levy, posted substantial increases in tax receipts last year. But Ulster County, which increased its tax to 8 percent in 2014, saw one of the largest revenue increases also, bringing 4 percent more into their coffers than in the past year.
The formula for higher sales tax receipts would thus seem to be more complex. It’s surely not a simple matter of raising rates to increase revenue and it might not be wise to lower them either. Some attribute the lower sales tax revenue to lower gas prices, because there has been a substantial drop in the taxes paid on a gallon of gas. In Putnam alone that accounted for a $2 million decrease, enough to account for the shortfall in this year’s numbers.
I submit that relying on gas station revenues is not a good plan for a healthy county economy. We need to promote industry, bringing in a larger and more diverse business base that is more resilient to the quirks of the economy. Our communities need to welcome commercial enterprises and not handicap them with zoning and signage restrictions, and we need to better cultivate the tourism potential of being so close to 8 million potential customers in New York City and its suburbs. We’ve been driving the economic train with the brakes on for far too long.
Jennifer Maher is broker/co-owner of J. Philip Commercial Group in Mahopac and chairwoman of the Putnam County Chambers of Commerce.