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St. Lawrence County legislators disagree on budget

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County legislators sniped at each other Tuesday about differing ways of handling the 2014 budget, making no decisions about the Highway Department — where administrators have recommended a lease program for equipment — or in Emergency Services, which will be over its spending projections for 2013.

With two Democratic legislators absent, lawmakers struggled to make votes count because it was hard to come up with eight people in favor of anything or against anything.

In Emergency Services, interim Director Keith J. Zimmerman warned of difficulties both for the remainder of this year and into next year.

“I think that Emergency Services budget is an example of tea party budgeting,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, referring to the work of previous director Joseph M. Gilbert, a tea party politician who resigned in September to devote more time to running for the 21st Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. After the meeting, Mr. Morrill said he meant Mr. Gilbert had ideas he did not back up with substance, not his view of tea party members of Congress.

Mr. Zimmerman said the 2013 budget could be over by $93,000 because of personnel difficulties that required more overtime than expected and because of a mistake in accounting for grant funding.

“I think the real challenge is living with the budget that’s here,” he said.

Mr. Zimmerman wanted legislators to correct a personnel line in the 2014 budget made when it was thought a senior dispatcher was leaving but who has since decided to stay. He also wanted to add $5,000 to train dispatchers that had been left out of the budget proposal.

However, legislators voted 7-6 not to make the changes, with Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton, the only Democrat to vote in favor.

“We have a mistake made by the previous director and we will effectively be demoting an employee because of that?” Mr. Zimmerman asked.

While Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said that “rational Republicans” were ready to support the budgetary fix, Mr. Morrill said the change would come when the full story of Emergency Services emerges and all legislators are present.

In Highway, outgoing Superintendent Toby W. Bogart said he could not recommend $250,000 in cuts wanted by Mr. Morrill as his department’s contribution toward elimination of $1.5 million some legislators want removed because they fear that dollar amount will not be forthcoming if land claims negotiations fall through.

“I want to be a team player on the $1.5 million,” said Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur. “This is a very, very important department. We are letting our infrastructure go down every day. We’re going the wrong way in this department. Sooner or later, it’s going to come back to haunt us.”

Despite the needs of the department, Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg, said the county cannot afford them. “The reality is, we don’t have the money,” he said.

Part of it could lie in legislators dumping a $100,000 community investment fund whose use has not been determined and cutting ties with Wladis Law Firm, Syracuse, as its lobbyist, Mr. Acres said.

Mr. Bogart presented legislators with an equipment lease plan using $600,000 of a capital reserve account, but Mr. Morrill faulted the proposal because of the money that would go for interest payments rather than machinery.

Mr. Morrill criticized Republican legislators for being unwilling to make budget reductions, but Legislator Daniel F. Parker said opposition to department head ideas undercuts creativity.

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