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Erie County legislators propose suspending county sales tax on heating fuels

It's a move aimed at assisting in times of near record inflation. However, what is proposed may only help 4% of county homeowners.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Earlier this year, New York State and Erie County tried to give motorists a break from high gas prices by suspending sales tax on a portion of your fill-up.

Now a group of county lawmakers say they'd like to see another break, when it comes to heating your home, the cost of which is expected to significantly rise this season as well.

However, it may not impact that many homeowners countywide.

The idea

"Everybody is paying more for literally everything right now and people are hurting," said Erie County legislator Joe Lorigo, a Conservative who leads the minority republican caucus.  "We hear from constituents every single day who can't afford the inflation that’s going through the roof, and can't afford their groceries or their gas. They are really concerned about heating their homes in the winter."

The lawmakers aligned with Lorigo are introducing a proposal to eliminate the county's 4.75% sales tax on heating fuel, for both residential and business customers, for certain types of fuel not provided by utilities.

This, according to Lorigo, this would include heating fuel such as coal, oil, wood, wood products (such as pellets) and propane.

"The distributor would have to take it off the bill because it would be illegal to collect the sales tax," Lorigo said.

However, it may not likely include natural, or "utility" gas.

"We'd have to look into  that because natural gas is provided by publicly regulated utilities," Lorigo said. 

Wouldn't help Many Homeowners

Unless natural gas from utilities was included, the reality is that if the proposal was adopted, wouldn't save many people money.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 88.1% of homes in Erie County use natural gas from utilities as their heating fuel. Additionally 7.4% of homes use electricity to provide heat.

The number of homes using propane, oil, coal, wood, and pellets (approximately 14,335 combined) accounts for only 3.6% of the homes in the county.

That is likely a far cry from 1965, when the county's Board of Supervisors (the forerunner to the modern-day legislature) put sales tax on home heating fuels in the first place.

In addition, many of those who use fuel sources such as the ones mentioned in the legislation, may have already purchased (and paid sales tax) on their supply for the coming heating season.

Still, Lorigo believes it's a way for the county to help some constituents where it can, and without much fuss.

"We got a call from a constituent who wanted to know why they were paying sales tax on their heating fuel, so we looked into it and through our research discovered that when that measure to place sales tax on these heating fuels was passed by the Board of Supervisors, it could also be eliminated via a resolution, and that's what we're trying to do," Lorigo said.

Not all counties charge sales tax for these particular fuel sources and New York State does not charge sales tax on home heating fuels at all.

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