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St. Lawrence County borrows $12 million


CANTON — To make its payroll and keep its vendors happy, the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators agreed Monday night to borrow $12 million.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we are on the brink of disaster,” said Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler. “It means the treasurer wants to be able to pay bills in a timely way.”

The county has just repaid the $8.5 million it borrowed last year to get it through this year’s cash flow problems.

The picture looks worse this year, as the county used $4 million of its fund balance to offset taxes, is typically owed $12 million to $13 million at any one time by the state for various reimbursements, and has a $3 million hole in its budget left from unreceived tribal compact funds.

“We have these large sums of money owed to us,” said Legislator Anthony J. Arquiett, D-Helena.

Mr. Arquiett noted that the county pays its bills on time but has not been given the same consideration by the state.

“I cringe that we’re moving from $8.5 million to $12 million,” said Legislator Vernon D. “Sam” Burns, D-Ogdensburg. “We don’t really have a cushion in our fund balance.”

Treasurer Kevin M. Felt asked legislators to borrow the additional funds after working out with fiscal advisors that the county’s greatest difficulty could come in August when its cash flow shortfall could reach over $11 million.

It costs the county $13,000 each time it borrows. Going to the well multiple times if it did not borrow enough would make the county a higher risk as well, he said.

“The $8.5 million this year was extremely close,” he said. “It barely squeaked us by.”

Now that the $8.5 million is paid off, Mr. Felt said he is shuffling money to make sure the county’s costs are covered.

Legislator Scott M. Sutherland, R-Pierrepont, voted against the new borrowing in committee but said he had changed his mind.

“Reluctantly, I’m going to vote yes,” he said. “The county has to meet its obligations.”

The county would be in less of a mess if it had acted during the year to curtail its expenses, said Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid. Mr. Acres specifically mentioned the Certified Home Health Agency which lost money last year and faces competition in the future, but which legislators agreed to try to rebuild.

“We haven’t taken any steps at all,” Mr. Acres said. “It’s up to us to make these decisions and get this done.”

Not having cash on hand is not necessarily a bad thing for county property owners because it keeps their money in their pockets rather than in reserve by government, Mr. MacKinnon said.

Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, concurred.

“You get a surplus by overtaxing your people and keeping the money,” he said.

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