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St. Lawrence County schedules public hearing to override tax cap

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators have begun the process to override the state property tax cap even though they do not know what next year’s cap will be and have not started budget deliberations for 2013 yet.

“I like to be prepared,” said Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk. “We may end up cutting enough out of our budget that we may not need to override the tax cap.”

Legislators at a committee meeting Monday scheduled the public hearing — the first step to override — for 7 p.m. Aug. 27.

“In August, we will have absolutely no answers,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler. “It’s almost an embarrassment. What are you going to have a public hearing on?”

Last year, the county scheduled the public hearing on overriding the cap for Aug. 26, when it also was not clear on how the state would structure the rules.

Even though the state bills the cap at 2 percent, several factors can increase that number. For this year, St. Lawrence’s cap was 4.8 percent; after it overrode the limit, it passed a budget that raised the tax levy 5.5 percent. The county would have violated the rules had it not gone with an override, because of a late decision by the state on how to handle chargebacks.

“It’s a good safety measure,” Treasurer Kevin M. Felt said. “The state’s constantly changing things.”

This year’s cap for the county should be similar to last year’s, but the state has not yet provided some of the figures needed to calculate the percentage, Mr. Felt said.

“The easiest way to clear this up is not to have a tax increase at all,” said Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid.

County residents already are taxed enough, said Mr. Acres, who voted against scheduling a public hearing along with Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon.

“I share your concern, but I have no revenue,” Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

Mr. Akins said a decision on the resolution, which was not on the agenda prior to the meeting, should not be treated lightly.

“This is fairly significant,” he said.

“We should be talking to our communities.”

However, Ms. St. Hilaire said the wheels need to be set in motion.

“It’s not like we’re doing this today and it’s happening tomorrow,” she said.

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