We could use more cheapskates like Doug Beaty in county government.
That’s a compliment in our book.
His career as a public servant began with his obsession with school spending in Queensbury, and has continued as an at-large supervisor representing Queensbury on the Warren County Board of Supervisors.
He doesn’t just want to save taxpayer dollars, he wants to save them nickels.
His latest idea, with the help of Queensbury Town Board candidate Travis Whitehead, is a radical idea that would cut Queensbury school taxes by raising the county sales tax and sharing some of that money with county school districts.
Five other counties — Erie, Monroe, Wayne Onondaga and Westchester — have adopted similar plans of sharing sales tax with school districts.
We applaud Beaty for thinking out of the box and trying to address a long-standing problem (rising school taxes) in a novel and unique way.
Here is the essence of the idea:
- Warren County currently has one of the lowest sales tax rates in the state. It would need to ask the New York State Legislature to pass a law allowing it to raises its sales tax from 7% to 8%.
- According to Beaty, an estimated 40% of the sales tax revenue comes from tourists and visitors from outside the area, so an increase in the sales tax would have a lesser impact on local residents.
- The 1% increase in the sales tax would give Warren County an estimated $18 million in additional revenue, based on 2018 numbers.
- Beaty proposes giving $9 million of that revenue to school districts across the county with a formula that caps the funds at $1,000 per student. The intent is that all these additional funds would be put toward lowering the school property tax rate.
- The other $9 million would be distributed to towns, villages and cities based on population.
- Beaty also says the schools only get the money if they continue to be under the tax cap.
Beaty met with our editorial board earlier this week, along with Glens Falls supervisor Peter McDevitt and Warren County administrator Ryan Moore. They both think the idea has merit.
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We had lots of questions.
It’s unclear how much this might drop the school taxes of an average resident, but the consensus seemed to be several hundred dollars, depending on the value of your residence. Beaty was insistent this money be applied to school taxes because it is the largest tax residents face.
He believes it is school taxes forcing residents to sell their homes and leave the region. We suspect that is only one of the reasons.
Our biggest question does not appear to have an easy answer, but we figured we would take a crack at it.
We wanted to know if it was possible for a taxpayer to end up paying more in taxes because of the increase in the sales tax. We suspect that depends on the size of your family, the ages of your children — sneakers are still really expensive — and whether you regularly buy big-ticket sales tax items like furniture, appliances and cars.
We calculated it would take spending $25,000 on taxable goods in one year to offset a $250 reduction in your school taxes. We suspect that is pretty high for the average family, but that is just a guess. If we concur with Beaty that 40 percent of the sales tax revenue comes from non-residents, our estimates may be skewed.
Regardless of what the sales tax cost is, there is a cost.
One of the criticisms of the proposal is that it benefits wealthier residents, but Beaty contends non-property owners might benefit from cheaper rents as landlords pass on property tax savings.
One again, we are skeptical.
Beaty is planning a presentation of his plan to the Warren County supervisors at the end of November, and we suspect he will face a lot skepticism.
We suspect there will also be pushback form the business community on raising the sales tax.
Even if everyone has buy-in, the Legislature has been reluctant in recent years to approve even the smallest increases in mortgage tax, never mind the sales tax.
Beaty and Whitehead should be applauded for turning school taxes sideways to see if there is a better way to help taxpayers.
We agree that even a few hundred dollars would be significant for many people, but we’d like to see more specific numbers.
For now, the issue is worth further study and more calculations.