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St. Lawrence County will have public hearing on tax cap

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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators agreed at a special meeting Monday to have a public hearing at 5 p.m. Aug. 29 in the courthouse to gather the opinions of constituents on the 2 percent property tax cap and its effect on the county budget.

A majority of legislators wanted the hearing to take place before Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire presents a detailed budget so they have options on whether to start with bare bones or with a plan that retains more services.

“A responsible budget is not necessarily a 2 percent budget because we have a duty to our constituents,” said Legislative Chairwoman Sallie A. Brothers, D-Norfolk. “Two percent in this county, with our revenue streams, is not responsible.”

Having the public hearing soon does not compel legislators to override the state-imposed cap, which it can do with a 60 percent majority vote or nine votes.

“It is not binding,” Mrs. Brothers said. “It is the opposite. It provides an option.”

Legislator Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction, was among four legislators who voted against having the hearing this month.

“There’s no timetable that says we have to do this before we start budget deliberations. I think it indicates we’re quitting,” Mr. Morrill said. “The public needs to see what the state requires of us with a 2 percent tax cap. That’s what the state told us to do, present a budget with a 2 percent tax cap or less. We need to see what it does to us.”

The hearing will have to come at some point because many legislators will not agree with cutting as many services and employees as the cap would require, saidLegislator Donald A. Peck, R-Gouverneur.

Ms. St. Hilaire earlier projected a 15.5 percent tax increase for next year to deal with a $15 million budget shortfall, but she revised her estimate Monday to a 9.5 percent tax increase.

“It’s coming down,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “I can only tell you we’re not going to get to 2 percent.”

She has suggested cutting $1.5 million from road and bridge work, $2.6 million from positions not filled and removed from the budget, $500,000 from the Sheriff’s Department and $450,000 from three days of furlough for all employees. The Youth Department, the Planning Office, home health care and drug dependency services also could be cut.

The county already has eliminated 49 positions for next year through attrition and retirement.

“At this point, no one has lost a job,” Ms. St. Hilaire said. “Not everybody has the same job, but they have a job.”

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