By JIMMY LAWTON
CANTON -- St. Lawrence County will not add new positions that aren't grant funded or offset by cuts in the 2014 budget, according to County Administrator Karen St. Hilaire.
The proposed budget was announced last night at the St. Lawrence County Board of Legislators meeting. The proposal would cancel last year's 14.2 percent property tax increase with revenues from the new 1 percent increase in sales tax that takes effect in December.
St. Hilaire says any new positions at the county would be offset by the elimination of another position or paid for by grants.
The 2014 budget adds three adds at least grant-funded potions. She said state funding will support the positions for at least three years, or possibly “indefinitely.” She said if grant funding is not available, the positions would likely be cut.
St. Hilaire said the county's total staff will drop from 858 to 827 employees without imposing layoffs.
She noted that the county had 980 employees in 2009 and has reduced its number steadily over the past few years.
"Every time there is a vacancy it is analyzed. We decide if it is need and if it can be filled by an existing employee. This is a process we have been undertaking over the last four or five years," she said.
The county will also attain a $6.5 million fund balance by the end of 2014, making the county less reliant on borrowed funds.
The budget increases spending from $235,065,511 in 2013 to $236,047,715 and increases revenues from $181,995,381 to $190,570,284.
The tax levy will drop from $53,070,13 in 2013 to $45,477,431, or 14.3 percent.
In her presentation, St. Hilaire says the "True Value Tax Rate will be reduced by 15.38 percent from $9.87 per $1,000 of assessed value to $8.36 per $1,000, a difference of about $1.50 per $1,000.
"I am very pleased with the budget. We promised we would reduce taxes by 14 percent and we were able to exceed that," she said.
The budget calls for shifting of several positions throughout a variety of departments and creates new positions, which will be grant funded.
St. Hilaire said the sales tax made the property tax reduction possible, but credited department heads, unions and negotiations for other cost savings.
She said unions agreed to no increase in 2012 and a $600 payment in 2013. St. Hilaire said the departments came in $2 million under budget last year.
"The entire county workforce has pulled together to cut costs as much as we possible, because we realize that for the county and the taxpayers we have to make it work," she said. "The unions, the department heads and the staff all deserve credit," she said.
The budget includes a $1.5 million payment of Tribal Compact Funds that St. Hilaire says has been allocated by the state, but does not include the $1.8 million owed to the county that is being held in escrow until negotiations are complete.
Budget workshops will continue in the coming weeks, but St. Hilaire said she does not expect the county to increase spending.
“It’s a good budget, but we are still living on a shoestring here,” she said. “We are going to have to continue to work to keep costs down.”