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St. Lawrence County lawmakers approve budget that raises levy more than 14 percent

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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 it’s the best we can do,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

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 can’t rehash that. How do we solve the problem?” he said. “You’re squeezing businesses in this county. Because you have no skin in it, it doesn’t hurt. You can raise the sales tax to 8 percent. You’re not going to stop your spending. We have a spiral that’s 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. What’s the state going to do?”

Mr. Acres had voted to override the tax cap in committee but changed his mind at the board’s 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 it could turn not to any reserves to offset the levy increase.

The county also overrode the tax cap for this year’s budget when it was at 4.4 percent. The tax cap for next year’s spending was calculated at 4.2 percent.

“It’s unfortunate we have to do this again,” said board Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk. “It’s necessary.”

The county’s 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 Department’s criminal division, said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction.

“Did we get it low enough?” Mr. Morrill said. “No, but we looked at every line.”

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.

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