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Tax levy reduced in 2014 St. Lawrence County budget

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CANTON - After weeks of contentious budget meetings, it took St. Lawrence County legislators just a few minutes Monday night to adopt a 2014 spending plan that reduces next year’s county property tax levy by 14.31 percent.

Lawmakers voted 13 to 1 in favor of the $234,121,032 budget, with legislator Daniel F. Parker, R-Potsdam, casting the only no vote. James A. Bunstone, D-Potsdam, was absent.

“I’m concerned about the level of cuts and level of spending,” Mr. Parker said. “We didn’t necessarily save money or cut money, we just shifted it into other places.”

Not a single person spoke during the budget public hearing that preceded the special meeting.

Several lawmakers spoke highly of the budget, saying it accomplished their goal of reducing the property tax levy by at least 14 percent. The tax levy is the amount of revenue collected from county property owners.

The property tax cut was outlined in a five-year financial plan that was used to win support for the 1 percent county sales tax increase that takes effect Sunday.

The additional percentage point is expected to generate an extra $13 million in sales tax next year.

“The 14.3 percent cut is something St. Lawrence County taxpayers should be rejoicing about,” said Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction. “We promised that and we’re delivering that.”

In the 2013 budget, the tax levy increased 14.4 percent, so next year’s cut essentially returns the county’s tax levy to the 2012 level.

The county property tax rate will decrease from $9.89 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation to $8.36 per $1,000 next year, representing a 15.3 percent decrease.

This year’s budget included a $53.1 million tax levy, which will decrease to $45.5 million under the adopted 2014 budget. The largest portion of the budget - $69.1 million - is for Social Service spending.

During budget meetings earlier this month, some legislators criticized County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire for including $1.5 million of state tribal compact revenue in the budget because the payments might not come through. Lawmakers made some budget modifications, but left $800,000 of projected compact funds in the budget.

Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said he would like to see better cooperation among legislators during the budget process.

“Many of the issues were decided by eight or nine votes before the discussion was even had. I hope we can work together better in the future,” Mr. Acres said.

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