Tentative 2020 St. Lawrence County budget: No tax rate increase, $1.2 million levy hike
Tuesday, October 8, 2019 - 1:26 pm

BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week

CANTON -- County Administrator Ruth Doyle presented a tentative $253.1 million 2020 St. Lawrence County budget that would raise the tax levy by $1,283,324.

It would not raise the tax rate. Under her spending plan, the owner of a $50,000 property would owe $414.34 in taxes. The owner of a $100,000 property would owe $828.67.

The tax levy increase is below their state tax cap of $1,936,839.

"This year contains more uncertainty ... due to changing and undefined mandates,” Doyle told the Board of Legislators during a presentation at their Monday, Oct. 7 meeting. "This budget sees a level of uncertainty that's dispersed across multiple departments and may have a significant fiscal impact … We concluded the county needs an increased amount for flexibility of budget implementation."

She said the uncertainty comes from the state, things such as voter and criminal justice, “Raise the Age” and criminal justice reforms, and requirements to test children for lead poisoning and monitor those who have it.

She is suggesting that they use $1,063,000 of the $2.5 million that would be set aside from the 2020 budget for the fund balance to leverage a big highway grant.

"There’s an unprecedented opportunity to leverage more than $10 million in state and federal funds" for roads, culverts and bridges, she said.

Legislator Kevin Acres, R-Madrid, wanted to know if anything was in the budget to address ash tree removal. Because of the emerald ash borer invasive species that destroys the trees, the vast majority of ash trees will have to be removed or be killed off by the bug.

"We know that with the ash tree removal, that potentially could cost the county around $10 million. Is there anything in the tentative budget to address that?” Acres asked.

"There’s nothing at this point ... working with National Grid to form a partnership. We're not entirely certain how that will go,” Doyle said.

The overall $253.1 million spending is up $16.2 million from 2019. Doyle anticipates $203 million in revenues, up $13.9 million from the current year. Their New York state retirement payment would be $5.9 million, up $100,000 from 2019. Their health insurance contribution would be $20.9 million, down $2.2 million from the current year. And she anticipates $59.1 million in sales tax revenue, up just over $1 million from this year.

The tentative budget would abolish 1.4 positions in Community Services and one each in the Highway Department, human resources, the Planning Department and the Real Property Department, for a total of $267,993.

It would create one position each in the Conflict Defender’s Office, Highway Department and Planning Department, two positions in the Public Defender’s Office and allow an increase in hours for part-time election clerks, custodians, nutrition staff and deputies. That’s a total of $300,832.

They are looking at setting a public hearing on the budget on Nov. 4 with the board voting on it at their meeting afterward. That could change if the board needs to make modifications, Doyle said.