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St. Lawrence County legislators rebuild, chip away at tax increase


CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators gave back but also took away Monday as part of continuing deliberations to pare away at a 20 percent projected tax levy increase.

Legislators restored by a nonparty-line vote of 8-7 the one position they had cut last week from the Real Property department after Director Darren W. Colton said losing the data collector would reduce revenue as towns pay about 75 percent of the cost of the job.

Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon, R-Fowler, said the back-and-forth of cutting positions, then putting them back was wasting everyone’s time.

“As we go forward, if you can’t cut positions or departments, accept that we’re going to have the tax increase,” he said. “We make one cut and then we put it right back in. If you can’t cut the staff, let’s not go through this drill.”

Without the data collector, Mr. Colton said his office will not provide much assistance for towns in terms of reviewing sales and inventories.

The reduction is the kind that towns and villages asked for rather than have a portion of their sales tax kept by the county, Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, said.

“They’ve asked us to cut their services,” he said. “This is a service directly to them.”

Rather than dictate cuts to Community Services, legislators asked Director Angela Doe to identify $300,000 in possible reductions from her $8.5 million budget request. Ms. Doe was given several days to come back with her recommendations for decreases or a combination of increased revenue and cuts.

Legislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur, warned there is danger in telling department heads to come up with revenue they cannot support.

“That’s what got us into this mess in the first place,” he said.

This year’s Community Services budget overestimated revenue by about $580,000 because changes in some reimbursement rates are being phased in over three years rather than in a single year.

“I walked into some revenue issues,” said Ms. Doe, who has been director for about six months.

She has critiqued mental health, alcohol and substance abuse programs and has just rolled out a plan to increase patient access with a walk-in evaluation service.

“Our no-show rate goes away,” she said. “We don’t have down time for clinicians any more.”

The department has also started centralized billing so that documentation for reimbursement is done daily.

Regardless of how the Community Services budget ends up in 2013, some legislators said they think the services should be done by organizations other than the county. The county is required to ensure mental health and substance abuse programs are available but does not have to provide them itself.

“We have well over 50 percent of it. There are other people out there doing it because otherwise we’d have 100 percent of it. Based on last year’s budget figures, they probably could do a better job,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “Maybe we should be giving you an opportunity to address some of these things.”

Legislators also allowed Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart to provide his recommendation on cutting three positions from his department but put off a decision until today. Rather than lose three laborers hired earlier this year, Mr. Bogart said he preferred losing an assistant civil engineer and a sign fabricator who will retire. The cost of their salaries is nearly equivalent to the laborers.

Mr. Morrill said he intends to ask legislators to approve cutting the two positions named by Mr. Bogart in addition to the three he proposed earlier.

The job of Recycling Coordinator Scott A. Thornhill in the Highway Department’s Solid Waste division, which is financed mostly by users, was scrutinized by legislators but not moved for elimination.

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