By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Sales-tax revenue for state and local governments was up 5.5 percent from January through September compared to the same period in 2012, with surges in sales in areas hit by Superstorm Sandy in the New York City area.
WEB EXTRA: You can read the Sales Tax database here.
Eight counties had negative growth this year, mainly in the Southern Tier - including Chemung, Broome and Tioga counties, records from the state Department of Taxation and Finance show.
An increase in sales-tax revenue is good news for counties and the state. Sales tax is the top revenue source for county governments.
But the results this year show an uneven recovery in New York from the recession that ended in 2009, said Stephen Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties.
Outside the New York City area, sales-tax revenue is up about 2.5 percent on average this year, Acquario said, and the revenue is being outpaced by expenses, particularly for pensions and health insurance.
"The top-line number shows a strong economy and strong revenue collection, but it's uneven growth," Acquario said. "If you take out downstate -- Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley -- a typical county is 2.5 percent (up in sales tax). That's alarming."
Counties hit by Superstorm Sandy a year ago saw an increase in sales-tax revenue this year as residents replaced items damaged in the storm. Sales-tax revenue was up 9 percent in Rockland County and 6 percent in Westchester County for the year.
Rockland County spokesman Ron Levine said the growth was in line with projections. The county has struggled to balance its books.
"We are pleased with the growth in sales-tax revenue and feel that it is another indicator that shows that Rockland County has turned the corner with respect to its fiscal situation," he said.
Some Southern Tier counties had a similar surge in sales-tax revenue last year after tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011. That appears to be a reason why some of those counties had a drop off in revenue this year.
Sales-tax revenue was down 3.2 percent in Broome County and down 4.3 percent in Chemung County - the second biggest drop among the 56 counties outside New York City. Schoharie County's sales-tax revenue fell the most, at 6.9 percent.
Broome County Executive Debbie Preston said the decline was expected, saying the increase in 2012 was due to flood recovery.
"We figured that. Last year was still from the flood. We're right on track from what we projected for this year. No surprise," she said.
Chemung County Executive Thomas Santulli said the sales-tax decline in the Southern Tier is indicative of a struggling upstate economy. Sales-tax revenue was down 2.7 percent for the year in Steuben County and 4.3 percent in Tioga.
Chemung once led the state in sales-tax growth, fueled by natural-gas drilling in neighboring Pennsylvania. But drilling in Pennsylvania has slowed, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. last year laid off 570 workers in the area.
"The problem in upstate New York is that taxes are too high. People are leaving," Santulli said.
Santulli criticized the state for not moving forward with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The Southern Tier sits above the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn't decided whether to drill amid protests from environmentalists.
"There's only one state that has turned its back on the future of our energy, and it's New York. It's harder to explain it every day," Santulli said.
Sales-tax revenue was up 2 percent in Ulster County and 1.7 percent in Dutchess County.
The results were similar in the Rochester area. Monroe County's sales-tax revenue was up 2.3 percent for the year and up 3 percent in Ontario County.