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St. Lawrence County sticks to cuts in department funding

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County Democratic legislators stuck to their guns Monday, pushing for cuts in the 2014 budget while Republicans preferred to borrow from the fund balance until state tribal compact money is delivered.

The fight is a difference in philosophy over how to deal with a potential shortfall of $1.5 million if land claim negotiations wither along with continued casino payments from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to the state and local municipalities. The county also promised to live up to a five-year fiscal plan it developed to persuade state legislators to allow it to raise its sales tax rate.

The budget that County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire handed to legislators included a 14 percent decrease in the tax levy as promised but also included the $1.5 million in anticipated compact funds, cut a proposed capital reserve account from $1.8 million to $1 million, and did not include $900,000 in unallocated money to build the fund balance, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said.

Mr. Morrill came up with $1.5 million in cuts that Democrats have been implementing at budget sessions. Republicans believe the Democratic strategy uses overblown revenue projections and fictitious reductions that will have to be reversed after departments overspend inadequate budgets.

Republicans presented an alternate plan that cuts $1.4 million from the county’s fund balance — estimated at $7 million at year’s end — which would be reimbursed with new compact funds.

“We will instead spend money we know we have,” Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said. “It gets us through this year. It takes the guesswork out of it. Both plans are headed in the same direction. One says it up front.”

Spending down the fund balance led to trouble in the past and will not help the county keep to a 2 percent property tax increase in the last four years of the plan, Mr. Morrill said.

The only real budget reduction would come if the county reduced its number of employees, Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said.

Mr. Acres unsuccessfully tried to impose 10 days of furloughs on nonessential county workers for a savings of $1.4 million, but most other legislators rejected the idea after Ms. St. Hilaire reported it would have to be negotiated with the county’s unions.

Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, wanted mileage reimbursement cut for legislators but that also was rejected as unfair to lawmakers who have districts that span many towns and those who live far from Canton.

With the majority in their favor, the Democratic plan of budget cuts held sway as $100,000 was cut from the Highway Department based on possible savings from a vendor management system.

There was general agreement to eliminate a $100,000 community reinvestment program that could have restored some money to outside agencies, including libraries. Other outside agencies that do work for the county, including the county Chamber of Commerce and Cornell Cooperative Extension, had their 2014 proposed budgets cut but their alloted amounts still represent a small increase over this year.

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