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St. Lawrence fourth-worst county financially, comptroller says

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CANTON - A report by state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli confirmed Wednesday what locals have long known: that St. Lawrence County is among the most financially stressed municipalities in New York.

St. Lawrence is in the fourth-worst financial straits in the state, behind only Rockland, Monroe and Suffolk counties, according to the comptroller’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System. It is one of only five counties to be listed as being in “significant financial stress,” the worst rating in the system.

“That is consistent with what we have been saying for the last couple of years, and one of the reasons why we were making such an effort to get an increase in our sales tax,” County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said.

A sales tax increase from 3 to 4 percent was approved last month after a long wait for state approval. Ms. St. Hilaire said the move will help the county begin to battle its budgetary difficulties in the months and years to come. “The increase in sales tax certainly will help. We have a five-year plan,” she said. “We think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

The report also rated every town in the county except Hermon and Rossie, which did not file their financial information on time. Despite the county’s woes, most of the communities within it are in fine financial shape, with only Clare and Clifton listed as being susceptible to fiscal stress.

The comptroller’s report is an update to a similar one issued in June. St. Lawrence County was not listed on the initial report because it did not submit its financial information before the first deadline.

The report looked at the amount of cash on hand, operating deficits, borrowing information and fixed costs to determine a municipality’s financial stability.

The report was created to raise awareness of municipalities’ financial situation at the state and local level, but Ms. St. Hilaire said she will have to wait and see whether it gets results. “I’m not sure what impact it will have with the state assisting us. All I know is that it is not news to us,” she said.

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