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St. Lawrence County budget drops property taxes


CANTON — The St. Lawrence County proposed budget includes a tax levy reduction of 14.3 percent, a drop in the true value tax rate of 15.4 percent, approximately $200,000 in savings due to position adjustments, and creation of a $100,000 community reinvestment fund.

“We asked you to do something, and you did it,” Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, told Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire at the conclusion of her budget message Monday.

The goals of the 2014 budget as outlined by Ms. St. Hilaire were to keep a promise to reduce taxes by at least 14.2 percent — done in order to persuade state senators to carry home rule legislation allowing the county to raise its local sales tax from 3 to 4 percent — attain a $6.5 million fund balance, begin a capital reserve fund to replace equipment and repair buildings, and keep staffing levels at net zero.

Overall, the proposed budget increases from $235 million to $236 million, and boosts revenue — primarily because of the increase in sales tax — from $182 million to $190 million. The net county cost — the tax levy — drops from $53 million for 2013 to $45.5 million for 2014.

The tax rate would drop from $9.88 per $1,000 of true value to $8.36 per thousand true.

A property owner with a true value of $100,000 who paid a property tax of $987 in 2013 would see a drop of $152.

The proposal calls for staffing changes in community services, public health, probation, the public defender, conflict defender, emergency services, treasurer, department of highways and department of social services.

Community Services would lose a deputy director and director of chemical dependency but gain a mental health/addiction services coordinator for a net savings of $88,000.

Public Health — which no longer has a Certified Home Health Agency — would lose a director of patient services and a supervising community health nurse. A keyboard operator would be downgraded to a clerk. The department would gain a combined Prevent director and director of patient services for a net savings of $127,000.

In probation, a principal fiscal officer would be downgraded to fiscal officer and a grant-funded senior probation officer would be added for a net savings of $13,000.

A legal secretary for the public defender and a keyboard operator for the conflict defender would be grant funded.

In emergency services, a senior dispatcher would be abolished in favor of a dispatcher for a net savings of $11,000.

In the treasurer’s office, an account clerk would be created for a cost of $30,000. Highway would gain an assistant engineer at a cost of about $42,000.

A caseworker position would be eliminated in the Department of Social Services for a net savings of about $40,000.

None of the projected costs for staff changes includes fringe benefits.

The county has gone from 980 positions in 2009 to a proposed 827 for 2014.

The county estimates it needs $2 million for capital expenses, such as repairing roofs and equipment purchases, but the 2014 budget provides funding of $1 million.

The budget also includes $3 million for the county and the towns of Massena and Brasher to split from state-tribal compact funds, the amount projected by the state.

The county is well aware of the trouble it ran into in the past when the money failed to come through because of an impasse between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

“All we have is the governor’s word the money will flow through,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “I’m concerned. I don’t particularly like having receivables in our budget. We’re forced to include money we may never receive. We’ve been through this before.”

If the money fails to come, it will have a unwelcome impact on the towns of Massena and Brasher, as well, said Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena.

“It’s a terrible ripple effect,” he said.

The proposed community reinvestment fund will come from the state-tribal funds. Its parameters will be up to legislators, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

“You folks are the determinant,” she said.

Legislators will begin their review of the budget at a special Finance Committee meeting Tuesday.

“It will not go through the 15 of us unscathed,” Finance Chairman Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said. “Any changes we make will be what we think is for the greater good.”

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