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Sun., Oct. 4
Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Brasher, St. Lawrence Central share concerns about certainty of funding


BRASHER FALLS - Although they are scheduled to receive money from the land claim settlement with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, neither the town of Brasher or St. Lawrence Central School District are putting it in their coffers just yet because they don’t know if and when it will arrive, and they don’t know if it will be a continual payment that’s still coming years down the road.

Brasher is scheduled to receive an annual payment of $750,500, while the school district would receive annual payments of $500,000.

Brasher Supervisor M. James Dawson said he would be hesitant to plug the money into his budget to reduce taxes because of the uncertainty of the funding. The town raises approximately $400,000 from property taxes to its highway and general fund expenditures. The town also receives casino gaming compact funds from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, through the state and county, and at one point those revenues were withheld by the tribal council because of a claim that its exclusivity was violated.

The tribe had withheld slot machine payments from 2010 to mid-2013, citing a casino on the Ganienkeh reservation in Altona as a breach of their gaming exclusivity compact with the state. The deal, which the tribe signed in 2003, guaranteed them the exclusive right to operate electronic slot machines in Northern New York.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced in May 2013 that, following negotiations, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe had agreed to resume giving the state proceeds from its gaming operations in St. Lawrence County, ending a three-year dispute.

Because of the uncertainty of that funding, Mr. Dawson had not included the payments in his operating budget, and he said this week that he would be hesitant to include any promised funding as a result of the land claims agreement.

“I will not do that. That is not a good idea,” he said.

Mr. Dawson said his board could opt to take the $750,500 and add it for use in the highway and general fund to keep residents with no town tax. But, he cautioned, they would be hit hard if the payments stopped and they had to go back to the residents for a tax increase.

“We’ve got money that we’re planning on coming in. All of a sudden we have to raise taxes $400,000 in one year,” he said, pointing out that St. Lawrence County Administrator Karen St. Hilaire had to do that in the past because she budgeted for casino gaming compact money that did not materialize.

“If we were sure over the next to 30 years that we would definitely be getting this much... there certainly would be a possibility,” Mr. Dawson said.

St. Lawrence Central School Superintendent Stephan J. Vigliotti Sr. said he also had a concern about the certainty of the funding.

“We don’t have anything that says we’re getting anything. The only information that the district has received is what was published in the paper,” he said.

Their 2014-15 budget that was approved by voters this month calls for the elimination of several positions, including one math teacher, one physical education teacher, one business teacher, a half-time language teacher, one teacher assistant, one school counselor, one art teacher, one teacher aide, one cook, 5 percent of an athletic equipment and supplies, and a half-time music teacher.

Brasher Deputy Supervisor William D. Demo said he had talked with Mr. Vigliotti last week and was told those positions weren’t likely to return, even with the additional funding, because of its uncertainty.

“He told me he wouldn’t be able to put the staff back on because there was no guarantee of money,” Mr. Demo said.

Mr. Vigliotti said Thursday it was a wait and see approach for the district until they had received some sort of official notification that they would get money and, if so, when it would be coming.

“We’re going to take it one step at a time. When more information becomes available we’ll look at it. It’s important to acknowledge that in the past this money has not been dependable,” he said.

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