November 2, 2012

Rallying for reimbursements, raises


---- — MALONE — A 2013 budget hearing turned into a call for Franklin County to seek reimbursement for expenses that involve the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation at Akwesasne.

District Attorney Derek Champagne said the county spends about $1.8 million on prosecutions, defense and supervision of North American Indians in the criminal-justice system. He thinks the state or federal governments should be approached about covering those expenses, and he offered to go to Albany and Washington, D.C., with interested county legislators to lobby for that relief.

He said cases involving reservation residents make up about 18 percent of the Probation Department caseload, 14.25 percent of the jail costs at the Sheriff’s Department, 19 percent of his caseload in the DA’s office, 19 percent in indigent-defense costs and 19 percent of the Public Defender’s Office expenses.

“I’m asking why should taxpayers pick up this bill?” Champagne said. “The state of New York should step up to the plate.”

The DA said Franklin County ranks 12th in the state in unemployment and 14th in persons living in poverty, which makes an even tougher burden on stressed property owners here.

County Treasurer Bryon Varin added that there are similar costs accumulating in other departments, such as his.

“I think it’s greater than that ($1.8 million),” he said. “There are other tangible costs in the County Manager’s Office and the County Clerk with the records.”

He offered to sit down with Champagne and go over the numbers to provide even more facts to state and federal leaders.

The DA also lobbied legislators for a pay raise for Public Defender Thomas Soucia and all non-union personnel who, on average, have not had a raise for three years.

County Manager and Budget Officer Thomas Leitz said here is $150,000 earmarked for raises in the proposed plan, but that money could be pulled and used toward something else.

The DA’s comments came after Leitz made a 40-minute presentation on the proposed budget, which stands at $99,740,402, or 11.4 percent lower than this year.

The tax levy is $15,410,538, which is an increase of 5.57 percent.

The average tax rate would increase about 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed-property value, from $4.06 to $4.29 per $1,000 in the coming year.

That means taxes on a property valued at $100,000 would go up about $22.35 in 2013.

Dickinson resident James Nesbitt questioned why legislators, when things are so tough on property owners, were considering giving $25,000 to a St. Lawrence County-based fishing-promotion group and $25,000 to develop agriculture-based tourism initiatives, on the heels of a move in August that forgave $22,000 in interest and penalties on housing units once owned by ComLinks.

“Every penny you give to something else you take from us,” Nesbitt said.

Prior to the pubic hearing, Leitz said he identified another $534,700 in potential savings in the budget since filing the tentative plan in October that would bring the tax rate to 1.91 percent and keep the county under the state mandated 2-percent tax cap.

But those figures are not completed, and more information and consultation with Varin was needed, he said.

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