St. Lawrence County Seal

Seal of St. Lawrence County. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — Property owners in St. Lawrence County will not see any change in their county property tax rate under a proposed 2020 county budget released Monday that also increases the number of full-time employees and allocates $10.8 million more for highway projects.

“This will be a big year for the highway department,” County Administrator Ruth A. Doyle said.

Mrs. Doyle released draft copies of the $253.1 million tentative budget to legislators on Monday night.

Under the proposed spending plan, the tax levy will increase from this year’s $47,793,962 to $49,077,286. This reflects a $1.28 million increase in how much will be collected from property taxpayers next year.

Despite the tax levy increase, the tax rate will remain at $8.28 per $1,000 of assessed property value under the proposed budget. That means, a person’s county property taxes should remain stable unless the assessed value of their property increased.

Mrs. Doyle said the assessed value of all county property increased by $154 million from the valuation that was taken to set the taxes for 2019.

“That is a 2.69 percent increase which is above average. The increase in valuation has provided the opportunity to absorb the increase (in tax levy) without increasing the rate,” she said.

The budget calls for improving the county highway infrastructure with an additional investment of $11.8 million in federal and state funding with a recommendation to appropriate $1.06 million of highway road fund balance to leverage these funds.

County Legislature Chairman Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, said the county plans to reconstruct six or seven bridges and six or seven culverts next year. Normally, the county does about two or three of each of those.

“We’re doing that to leverage over $10 million in state and federal funding,” he said. “It also sends a message that this board isn’t trying to build up a big fund balance.”

Health insurance expenses are expected to decrease from $23.1 million allocated in this year’s budget to $20.9 million next year.

Also, sales tax revenues are projected to increase from $58 million to $59.1 million. About 44 percent of sales tax collections are shared with the city of Ogdensburg, and the towns and villages.

The budget also meets the Legislature’s goal of returning 1 percent of the budget, approximately $2.5 million, following the close of the year. From that amount the county will use $1.5 million toward expenses, marking the first time since 2012 that a portion of the fund balance is being appropriated.

The tentative budget includes funding for approximately 808 full-time equivalent employees, an increase over 789 at the end of 2018.

The five new full-time equivalent positions created in the budget include one conflict defender, one highway employee, one planning employee and two public defender employees. It also increases hours for part-time elections clerks, custodians, nutrition staff and deputies.

It also abolishes 5.4 full-time equivalent jobs, including 1.4 positions in community service, one in highway, one in human resources, one in planning and one in real property.

The County Legislature has scheduled budget review sessions during committee meetings scheduled for Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.

Mrs. Doyle credited many others for their role in preparing and managing the budget.

“The work to prepare and manage a $253 million budget with the success that St. Lawrence County has accomplished in the last few years could not happen or be sustained without the employees, the directors, the budget team, and the commitment of the Board of Legislators to see it through,” she said.

Projected St. Lawrence County 2020 Property Taxes

Assessed Value 2020 Taxes

$50,000 $414.34

$100,000 $828.67

$150,000 $1,243.01

$200,000 $1,657.34

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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