CANTON The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators voted to override the state tax cap Monday and approved a $235 million budget that raises the tax levy 14.4 percent.
Fourteen percent is unbelievable but I think its the best we can do, Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said.
Not everyone agreed as opposition to the budget came from Legislators Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, Scott M. Sutherland, R-Pierrepont, and Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid.
At a hearing before the vote, Massena businessman Edward J. Kaneb Jr., the only member of the public to speak, acknowledged the county had deep financial difficulties.
The legislators over the past 10 years really missed some opportunities but we cant rehash that. How do we solve the problem? he said. Youre squeezing businesses in this county. Because you have no skin in it, it doesnt hurt. You can raise the sales tax to 8 percent. Youre not going to stop your spending. We have a spiral thats starting to spin faster.
Mr. Kaneb advised legislators to pressure the state and to formulate a bankruptcy plan.
Somebody has to push back against the state, he said. Scream, yell. Whats the states going to do?
Mr. Acres had voted to override the tax cap in committee, but changed his mind at the boards special meeting when he was the only legislator to vote against an override.
I think Ed Kaneb brought everything back into focus, Mr. Acres said.
The county should have sold its certified home health agency, which it recently voted to phase out, earlier in the year and looked at employee furloughs, Mr. Acres said.
The budget approved by the board carries a tax levy of $53,070,130. Last year, the board approved a budget with a levy of $46 million that hiked taxes 5.5 percent. The county has used up most of its fund balance so could not use any reserves to offset the levy increase.
The county also overrode the tax cap for this years budget when it was at 4.4 percent. The tax cap for next years spending was calculated at 4.2 percent.
Its unfortunate we have to do this again, Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk, said. Its necessary.
The countys tax rate will climb from $8.72 per $1,000 of true assessed value to $9.81 per $1,000 of true assessed value, an increase of 13.43 percent. A property owner with a home assessed at $100,000 will pay $109 more next year in county taxes.
Other than the 32 employees from the CHHA in Public Health, and several other positions lost to cuts and attrition, county residents supported other departments that might have been slashed, such as the Sheriff Departments criminal division, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said.
Did we get it low enough? Mr. Morrill said. No, but we looked at every line.
However, Mr. Akins said legislators have approved too many contracts without knowing enough about them.
The sum of all those things are bad, he said. We could have done a little bit on a lot of things.
Many partner agencies, including county libraries, had their funding eliminated.
Legislator Vernon D. Sam Burns, D-Ogdensburg, tried to add $1 in funding for each of the 11 agencies that received nothing as a symbolic show of support but his budget amendment was defeated 7-7, with Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton, absent.
Weve taken the courage to cut, said Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, who voted against the funding. By putting the dollar in may give a false sense of hope.