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Franklin County Legislature adopts budget with 5 percent tax levy hike

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MALONE - The Franklin County Board of Legislators adopted a 2014 budget that calls for a 5 percent tax levy by a 4-3 margin at its meeting Thursday.

Legislators Tim Burpoe, D-Saranac Lake; Sue Robideau, R-Brushton; Tim Lashomb, R-Malone; and Paul Maroun, R-Tupper Lake; supported the spending plan, while board Chairman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay; and lLegislators Tim Smith, D-Fort Covington; and Gordon Crossman, D-Malone, voted against it.

The budget calls for a 5.05 percent tax levy increase, over 2 percent above the state-mandated tax cap of 2.99 percent that was calculated for the county. These extra funds from going above the cap, around $300,000, will be deposited into the county’s fund balance.

The budget also allows for $42,000 in raises for the nearly 70 non-unionized, or management, county employees. The raises appropriated for each position are approximately $500, according to a chart provided by County Manager Tom Leitz.

Pulled from the budget were raises for the county Sheriff’s Department employees. The original tentative budget included a ratified union agreement, but none of the proposed contracts have been tatified. The money set aside for the raises was used to offset the costs of the department’s health care, which is more expensive than that of the rest of the county employees, according to Mr. Leitz.

Raising taxes was a point of contention for legislators, who remained divided through the vote over whether to stay below the tax cap or go above it to put the extra money in the county’s fund balance.

“What we’ve done here is try to keep a levy that’s acceptable to the general population and, at the same time, build back the reserves that we’ve been critcized from [using] from the [state] Comptroller’s office,” Mr. Maroun said. “What the governor [Gov. Andrew Cuomo] fails to realize is that when he said the 2 percent [tax] cap, which everybody calls it, he also said he was going to reduce mandates.”

He added that he believes that the board did well with the 2014 budget.

“We’re in the realm of reason,” he said.

Other legislators spoke favorably of the spending plan.

“Nobody likes to increase taxes,” Mr. Lashomb said..

However, Lashomb said it was important to make a smaller increase this year in the hopes that in coming years, county taxpayers will not see a large tax jump.

Mr. Burpoe noted the county is at a difficult point trying to have a balanced budget plus still provide services, many of which are used by people who may not pay taxes. He also was outspoken about trying to rebuild the county’s fund balance, which has been depleted from $16,536,686 in 2009 to $5,778,668, according to a recent state Comptroller’s audit.

But Mr. Jones thought the county should not raise taxes above the cap this year.

“I think we can get to the cap one more year,” he said, referring to the county staying beneath it for the past several years. “This is definitely the toughest budget I’ve been through.”

Mr. Crossman spoke about the difficulty for taxpayers having their tax bills raised above the cap.

“Too many of the people I represent are struggling too much to try to save their homes,” he said.

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