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County administrator Karen St. Hilaire says she's not pleased with St. Lawrence County's budget numbers. Photo: Julie Grant
County administrator Karen St. Hilaire says she's not pleased with St. Lawrence County's budget numbers. Photo: Julie Grant

St. Lawrence County to vote on budget tonight

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(UPDATE: The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators approved a $235-million dollar budget Monday night, over-riding the state tax cap, and raising property taxes by more than 14-percent.)

The 57 counties outside New York City face a collective budget gap estimated at $130 million as they write their budgets for the fiscal year that starts in January.
That's according to a report this fall from the New York State Association of Counties.

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario says counties are caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they pay for dozens of mandated services, from Medicaid to child welfare, which cost more every year.

On the other hand, they now face a new state cap on property tax increases.
Acquario told North Country Public Radio that leaves counties essentially "governing by triage."

St. Lawrence County legislators plan a public hearing tonight on the 2013 budget. County administrator Karen St. Hilaire says the $250 million spending plan contains a 13.5 percent tax increase.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

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Not a one of us like this budget, but I think that it's the best that we can do at this point.
"This has been a most tortuous process. We have been six to eight weeks just after the tentative just trying to come up with a budget that we can all live with. We have a budget that has a 13.5 percent tax increase. Nobody is happy. Not a one of us like this budget, but I think that it's the best that we can do at this point." 

If approved, it will cost the owner of a $100 thousand home an additional $109 in property taxes next year. 

St. Hilaire says county officials have cut everything possible. The county is transferring the home health care agency to a private company, and it cut funding to outside agencies like the library, Ogdensburg Command Performance, the Food Bank of Central New York, and the St. Lawrence County Arts Council. "All wonderful agencies that I personally support and appreciate, and think they help make the quality of life in St. Lawrence County much better. But the reality is, the money is just not there."

Some county legislators say this is a correction year, and future budgets shouldn't be so painful. But St. Hilaire disagrees. She says the county needs a new funding source, such as an increase in the sales tax. Otherwise, residents should expect even bigger tax hikes in the coming years. 

St. Hilaire says the county can't continue on its current path.

"One of the big problems we have this year is we're deferring maintenance again. We have three roofs, we used to have two, now we have three that are leaking. And when it rains we are putting buckets out, and we can't do this too much longer. So we are going to have a face a decision fairly soon of, do we bond for that kind of work?"

St. Hilaire says a bond issue will likely be discussed in future board meetings. For tonight, legislators are expected to approve the 2013 budget following the public hearing.

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