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St. Lawrence County budget discussion begins soon

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County budget discussions begin Monday, but the chairman of the Finance Committee already has identified $7.1 million in cuts he wants debated, and the St. Lawrence County Deputies Association will have a news conference Friday to protest possible reductions in the department’s criminal division.

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, had asked Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire to detail what $5 million cut from the budget would mean in terms of services and personnel lost from unmandated programs, but she refused because she considered that the job of legislators.

The tentative budget presented by Ms. St. Hilaire proposed a tax levy increase of 20 percent.

Mr. Morrill went through the budget himself for reductions that would put the tax increase under the state’s cap and has asked his peers for comment before he presents it in detail. It includes cuts to the Sheriff’s Department criminal division, more than $1 million less for highway expenditures, and the closing of the Department of Motor Vehicle satellite offices in Gouverneur, Ogdensburg and Massena.

“I have found some cuts that will be easy to make,” Mr. Morrill said. “There are others that won’t be easy.”

He said he may not end up supporting some of the proposals he presents, but wants to give legislators choices.

“I want people to know what it will mean if we cut,” Mr. Morrill said. “I’m not into drama. I’m into trying to resolve these budget issues.”

The Deputies Association will have a news conference at 11 a.m. Friday at Best Western University Inn, 90 E. Main St., to present a case against gutting its criminal division.

Mr. Morrill said he was glad to see the debate begin on the importance of services the county provides and whether residents are willing to pay for them.

Some have accused Mr. Morrill of pushing the cuts as leverage for state representatives to approve legislation that would allow a 1 percent increase in the local sales tax.

“That’s not my goal, but it could happen,” Mr. Morrill said. “We only have two choices, so we need to show what they are. We can have higher taxes or no services.”

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