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County budget calls for 13.45 percent tax hike

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CANTON - Ending several weeks of budget debate, St. Lawrence County legislators Monday made a few more spending cuts before endorsing a tentative 2013 budget that increases property taxes by 13.45 percent,

The roughly $249.2 million spending plan is expected to be approved by the full board next Monday following a 7 p.m. public hearing in the legislative chambers.

If approved, the county’s tax rate at full value will climb from $8.72 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $9.81 per $1,000.

Giving an example of the impact, County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said the owner of a $100,000 home at full value will pay $117 more next year in county property taxes.

Veteran legislator Alexander A. MacKinnon (R-Fowler) noted that despite the double-digit tax hike, the actual spending increase is 5.33 percent over this year’s budget, climbing from $50.4 million to an estimated $53 million.

Unlike past years, he pointed out that the board didn’t have $4 million to use from a reserve fund and it agreed not to include $1 million in tribal gaming revenue that didn’t come through this year even though it was in the budget.

Mr. MacKinnon said the proposed budget corrects several problems that were identified this year with the county’s Public Health and Community Services departments.

“To me, this was a correction year,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “We haven’t raised taxes high enough in the past and now we have more accurate numbers. I think we’ve yanked the county back into fiscal prudence.”

He predicted that after 2013 the county should be able to keep property taxes in the 5 percent range.

Ms. St. Hilaire disagreed, saying that without an additional revenue source, such as an increase in sales tax, the county could face tax hikes in the 16 to 18 percent range every year.

“This is not a one-year thing,” she warned legislators. “It is going to recur until you start getting more revenue. We don’t have enough revenues to run this operation.”

During Monday evening’s meeting, legislators agreed to whittle about $465,185 more from the budget, which lowered the tax levy hike from 14.45 percent to 13.45.

The modifications, proposed by Legislator Frederick S. Morrill (D-DeKalb Junction), included reducing the social security allocation by $250,000, cutting health insurance costs by $212,674 and increasing revenue by $54,736 by increasing town charge backs for election expenses.

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