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Legislators bat back half of tax hike

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Jefferson County legislators will consider a budget next week that halves the administration’s proposed tax hike levy and adds $300,000 more in transportation funds.

The Finance and Rules Committee on Wednesday passed an amended budget, which will be considered by the full board on Tuesday after a public hearing.

The county administration had originally proposed a $2.1 million tax levy hike for 2013, which amounted to 4.4 percent of the previous year’s levy, or amount to be raised by taxes. Legislators knocked that down to a $1 million tax levy increase, or 2.2 percent. They did so in part by increasing the prediction for how much money the county would receive in 2013 from the sales tax.

In 2012, the county budgeted $33 million in sales-tax revenue, but because of growth fueled by Fort Drum and Canadian shoppers, the county is expecting to surpass $34 million this year. The administration originally proposed pegging the number at 2013 to the amount it will receive by the end of this year, which assumes no growth in the sales tax. Under the Finance and Rules Committee proposal, the county would budget for $34.25 million in sales-tax revenue, giving it $250,000 more leeway in its budget than the original proposal.

The county also estimated it would save $500,000 in its health benefits plan.

County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III said the $500,000 in savings was a reflection of cost-savings in county employee health plans that have already been implemented but weren’t counted toward the first version of the budget.

“My first look is to bring the tax levy down,” said Legislator Michael Docteur, R-Cape Vincent, the vice chairman of the board. “I think that happened again.”

Mr. Docteur said that the local tax base hasn’t been keeping up with the cost of government.

If the budget is passed, the new tax levy would represent a tax rate of $6.43 per $1,000 of assessed value, or a $643 annual property tax bill on a property assessed at $100,000. That is an increase from the $6.37 rate this year, but down from the $6.56 that the administration had requested.

The county would also spend $300,000 more on fixing up roads under the proposed budget. Several county legislators successfully argued that if the roads aren’t fixed now, the repairs will cost more later.

“Getting these roads up to par before they get too far away from us is a good thing,” said Legislator Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing.

In the newly proposed budget, the county would take $300,000 from a current road project that is funded for $400,000. That road project would not be delayed. The county would have to earmark $150,000 in 2014 and 2015 to make up for the $300,000 taken out this year.

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