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Compact money coming to St. Lawrence County, Massena and Brasher

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CANTON — The financial condition of St. Lawrence County, along with the towns of Massena and Brasher, will be helped by a flow of state-tribal compact money that some had questioned would continue.

“It’s manna from heaven,” County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

The county has been notified it will receive $396,000 in compact funds — which come from slot machine revenue — for the third quarter of 2013, money it did not budget because of a long delay in receiving back payments. The towns of Massena and Brasher will each receive shares, as will Franklin County and the towns of Bombay and Fort Covington.

Over the displeasure of some legislators, Ms. St. Hilaire included $1.5 million in compact funds in the 2014 budget.

The situation for 2014 was different than for 2013, Ms. St. Hilaire said.

For 2013, the county was at loggerheads with the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, so continued funding was questionable. For 2014, the outcome for the money was brighter because the state and the tribe reached a deal to negotiate land claims.

“I felt there was a pretty good chance we were going to be receiving this money,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “I felt it was a pretty good risk to take.”

The county expects a similar payment in April or May for the last quarter of 2013.

“It shows our cash position is slightly improved,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler.

The compact has required the county and the towns to spend the money on economic development. Plans to spend the money must be approved by the state’s Empire State Development Corp.

The county will submit a plan to use its share of the money for its contract with the county Industrial Development Agency and with the county Chamber of Commerce for tourism promotion.

“What we’re trying to do is see if there’s a way to get this process streamlined,” Ms. St. Hilaire said.

The payment process needs much improvement, Massena Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said.

“We need a much more timely payout,” he said. “We need a better handle on how much we can expect to receive.”

The municipalities also should be able to use the money as they see fit, he said.

Massena includes the funding in its budget, but only for items that it would not pay for if the money were not forthcoming because of the problems inclusion caused when the payments were suspended.

Brasher does not include the money as a line item, even though auditors do not like it, Supervisor M. James Dawson Jr. said.

“That way, I don’t have to raise taxes to fill a gap,” he said. “I’ve always kept it separate.”

Brasher wants to continue to use the money to build a town garage to house the trucks that keep roads to the casino passable. The dribbling out of funds on a quarterly basis makes it hard to plan, Mr. Dawson said.

“If we continue to get it quarterly, it’s difficult to pigeonhole all these projects,” he said.

Massena will submit a plan for its $198,357 for security upgrades at the airport, toward the local cost of a rail spur for Curran Renewable Energy, for part of the cost of a plow truck, for a Riverquest kiosk in Brockville, Ontario, for research into extending the runway at the airport and for an access road.

The revenue should continue regardless of the outcome of land claim negotiations, Mr. Gray said.

“There is no legal connection between the two,” he said.

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