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Budget proposals contain tax increases

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Budget proposals contain tax increases
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A major tax increase may take effect for residents in St. Lawrence County. The proposed budgets are out for the county and the Town of Massena. Our Barry Wygel investigated why these increases have been deemed necessary.

ST. LAWRENCE COUNTY, N.Y. -- It's that time of year. Municipalities around the state are proposing their next budgets and with the tough economy, that's not an easy task.

"Very difficult budget. Painful on several fronts," said Joseph Gray, Massena Town Supervisor.

"Enormous cuts to the budget. We have, over the past four years, cut 110 positions, which is actually 10.7 percent of our workforce," explained Karen St. Hilaire, St. Lawrence County Administrator.

Gray and Hilaire both proposed budgets with steep tax increases, which they say wasn't by choice. The proposed St. Lawrence County budget raises taxes by almost 20 percent. The Town of Massena budget raises taxes by almost 40 percent.

"Which amounts to, for a $90,000 home, you're talking about $119.70 increase," said Gray.

Part of the reason there are such big increases in the Town of Massena, is because of lost revenue from the Native American Gaming Compact. Typically, Native Americans pay a portion of their revenue to the state, which then shares them with the local towns.

"The state is refusing to pay it, for the past year-and-a-half, because the Mohawks are refusing to pay the state, because they're in dispute with the state," said Gray.

On the county level, the increase is so dramatic because in years past, the county has been able to dip into a reserve fund and not raise taxes, but the reserve fund is going dry.

"We are at the point where we are not taking anything from the fund balance, which means that all of the money that is needed will have to go on the levy for the tax payers," said Hilaire.

While both county and town leaders know the economy is still recovering and nobody wants to pay higher taxes, they admit there is just nothing they can do.

"I wish I didn't have to give them this budget. I've cut everything possible to reduce the amount we have to give them. I don't have any answers," said Hilaire.

Both budgets still need to be approved by their respective legislatures before they take effect.

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