St. Lawrence County suffers from low income, high taxes and heavy reliance on government employment, report says
By JIMMY LAWTON
An economic report from the state comptroller shows St. Lawrence County suffers from low income, high taxes and a heavy reliance on government employment.
The report includes statewide data as well as regional data for the North Country, which includes St. Lawrence, Essex, Clinton, Franklin and Lewis counties. In many categories St. Lawrence County lags behind the state and region.
Low income, high child povertySt. Lawrence County’s median income household income is $44,705, which is about $15,000 below the state median income of $59,269. St. Lawrence County’s income is also lower than the other five North Country counties included in the report. Of those counties Franklin has the second lowest median income at $47,923 followed by Lewis County at $49,819.
The county’s low income and employment are likely contributors to its high poverty rate. More than 1 in 4 children in St. Lawrence County lives below the poverty line. Across the state the poverty rate is 22.2 percent, but St. Lawrence County’s is 27.5 percent. In the six county region only Essex has a hire child poverty rate at 29.9 percent.
St. Lawrence County also has a high unemployment rate at 6.6 percent, compared to the state average of 4.8 percent. Lewis County is the only county in the region with a higher rate at 6.7 percent.
In 2016, the North Country’s total employment was 150,595, with an average annual wage of $40,763.
Across the North Country region the largest employer is the government. The average wage for government employees is $49,839, with about 43,828 jobs across the six county region.
“Government – federal, State and local – is the largest industry sector in the North Country, with nearly 44,000 employees, or 29 percent of total employment. The government workforce includes teachers, public administrators, firefighters, police and civilians employed at Fort Drum,” the report says. “Included are employees of the 12 state correctional facilities located in the region. State and municipal government employment contracted during the most recent recession, and DOL expects a slight decline over the next several years.”
The best paying jobs in the region are utilities with an average wage of $93,062, but the utility sector provides only 626 jobs.
The other major employment sectors are Health Care at 23,269 jobs, Retail at 21,235 jobs, accommodation and food at 14,484 and manufacturing at 10,219.
Low property values, high taxes
Median home values are also relatively low in the region, though higher-priced housing is scattered throughout, with many secondary homes, according to the report.
In St. Lawrence County the median value of a home is about $87,600. That’s significantly lower than the state median of $283,400. It is also the lowest in the six-county region. Essex is the second lowest at $101,600.
“Housing is therefore generally relatively affordable – just over a quarter of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, compared to 38 percent in the state as a whole. However, the percentage of owner-occupied housing units is relatively low for upstate New York,” the report says.
The low property values in St. Lawrence County make for above average property tax rates. In St. Lawrence County residents pay about $34.79 per $1,000, compared to the state average of $28.84 per $1,000. However, the median tax bill in St. Lawrence County is well below the state’s median. St. Lawrence County comes in at 3,047, while the state median is $8,173.
St. Lawrence County also has an abundance of vacant housing units, with about 20.6 percent of its housing units vacant. Across the state only about 11.1 percent of housing units are vacant. However, compared to the other six regions in the county St. Lawrence County fairs much better than Clinton at 40.5 percent and Lewis at 30.9 percent.
“Contributing factors likely include population decrease, a large number of second homes and seasonal outflow of residents. On the other hand, foreclosure rates are low compared to the State as a whole: only 0.7 percent of total housing units were in foreclosure in 2015 compared to 1.1 percent for the state,” the report says.
St. Lawrence County does outpace the state in some categories, according to the report. The county’s graduation rate of 88 percent is about 2.4 percent higher than the state average of 85.6 percent. Leading the North Country region is Jefferson County with a graduation rate of 89.4 percent.
The percentage of St. Lawrence County residents with bachelor’s degrees or higher is 22.3 percent, well below the state average of 30.4 percent, despite the fact that county is home to four colleges.
Education is an important source of jobs in the North Country.
“There are nearly 19,000 employees in the field, including both private sector educational services and public education. The region’s three comprehensive SUNY colleges – Canton, Plattsburgh and Potsdam – employ over 2,800 full-time or part-time teachers and staff,” according to the report.
“In addition, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry has campuses in Essex and St. Lawrence counties. There are also three SUNY community colleges: Clinton Community College, Jefferson Community College and North Country Community College in Essex County. Three private colleges – St. Lawrence University, Clarkson University and Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Science – employ a combined teacher/staff workforce of over 2,000. At the elementary and secondary level, public school districts provide a large share of the overall employment in some counties,” the report says.
State and local leaders have been trying to boost economic development by investing in and promoting community-based projects to expand tourism, improve workforce talent and spur growth in agriculture and manufacturing.
Leaders have also focused on planning for the future through infrastructure modernization, including upgrading water systems and wastewater treatment facilities, and combating the effects of climate change, according to the comptroller’s report.
The full report can be found at goo.gl/4KTBQm.