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Heavy burden

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St. Lawrence County is faced with a 20 percent tax-levy increase — a significant burden for residents if the plan goes through.

In a presentation Monday to the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators, Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire explained that the gap between appropriations and revenues continues to grow — to $9.3 million this year.

The county has spent down its fund balance. The administrator projects a hike in the property tax rate from $8.72 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $10.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. That is quite a jump, and a painful one.

Projected cuts in services are many, particularly for outside agencies, including the county Industrial Development Agency and Chamber of Commerce. Health insurance costs have risen from $14.6 million in 2008 to $20.8 million in 2013, pension obligations from $3.2 million to $8.4 million over the same period.

Yet despite the steep fiscal challenges facing St. Lawrence County, legislators voted to hire a lobbyist for $5,000 per month, plus expenses, to advocate on the county’s behalf in Albany. Isn’t that what the three state senators and four Assembly members representing the county are supposed to do? What’s wrong with this picture?

To make matters worse for some taxpayers, the town of Massena is considering a 38.4 percent hike in the property tax rate for village of Massena residents and a 30 percent jump for those outside the village. The town’s tax levy will rise by $725,000.

That means a property owner in the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay nearly $120 more in town taxes than in 2012; a similar parcel outside the village would pay $118.80 more.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray has called the 2013 town spending plan “painful.” Because of a dispute between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, the town is not receiving casino gambling compact funds — anywhere from $182,819 to $555,613 — that have helped in the past. But a 38 percent property tax hike is outrageous.

Governments at all levels need to understand that raising taxes cannot automatically be the go-to solution for fiscal dilemmas. The federal government seems prepared to allow the payroll tax cut to expire, which would hike the rate from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent if Congress does nothing, which it has down to an art. That would mean a person making $35,000 per year would pay $700 more in taxes.

Government cannot keep balancing budgets on the backs of taxpayers. Hard-working Americans are bearing an awful burden as it is.

St. Lawrence County residents will be especially hard-hit if the county’s budget plan for 2013 is approved.

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