By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Although details of Clinton County’s projected 2014 budget have yet to emerge, the plan is expected to remain below the state tax cap.
“While it wouldn’t be fair to publicly announce this year’s budget prior to the legislators getting the cursory opportunity to review, I have to be fair to taxpayers, as well,” Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) said.
“In fairness to our taxpayers who are charged next week with selecting five legislative seats that are up for election, I can tell you the legislature will not need to vote to exceed this year’s 1.66 percent tax cap.”
SALES TAX BOUNTY
The cap is set by the state based on the rate of inflation. If a county wants to exceed the cap, it must do so by a majority vote of the County Legislature.
The county has maintained a budget under or at the cap since it was installed in 2011.
County Finance Committee Chairwoman Sara Rowden (D-Area 4, Town of Plattsburgh) said the county’s finances are in good health, largely due to the boon in sales-tax revenue.
As of the end of September, the county was about $3.2 million ahead of projections.
“We’ve been very fortunate with the sales tax, and there is no indication that it is going to change,” Rowden said.
“That is going to help us stay within the cap.”
Rowden said consumer confidence seems to be rising as the nation emerges from the deep recession of 2008, and the influx of visitors from Quebec also continues to be a positive impact.
“Our tourism efforts are paying off,” she said.
In addition to taking in more money, Rowden said, the county has done a good job of keeping spending under control.
“We are very fortunate enough to have some department heads who understand the fiscal reality of today, and their budget requests are within reason, and they make do with what they get,” she said.
FIVE OPEN SEATS
Five legislature seats are up for election next week:
▶ Incumbent Jonathan Beach (R-Area 2, Altona) is running unopposed.
▶ Democrat Colin Read is running against Republican Gerard Renadette for Rowden’s Area 4 seat in the Town of Plattsburgh.
▶ Republican John Bernardi faces Democrat Patty Waldron in Area 6 in the Town of Saranac.
▶ Incumbent Republican Mark Dame is being challenged by Democrat Robert Dolan in Area 8 in the south end of the City of Plattsburgh and the Cliff Haven area of the Town of Plattsburgh.
▶ Democrat Robert Hall is running against Republican Richard Perry in the city’s Area 10.
In addition to Rowden, Robert Butler (R-Area 6, Saranac) and Robert Heins (R-Area 10, city) cannot run again due to term limits.
County Democratic Party Chairman Martin Mannix said the county budget has not been a big issue in this year’s campaigns.
“There hasn’t been a real push from anybody about the budget, including our Tea Party section of the county,” Mannix said referring to the most conservative faction of the Republican Party.
Mannix said the county’s sales tax has been a great help, but other factors are also keeping the county’s revenue stream healthy.
“The Canadians get a great deal of credit for the sales tax, but we are a massive regional center for the area,” he said. “We have people from Tupper Lake (and elsewhere) who come to shop here.”
Republican Party Chairman Donald Lee said he also has not heard much about the county budget on the campaign trail.
“For about the past 10 years or so, the county budget has been very accessible, and I haven’t heard too many people raising a stink about it,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can get some more conservative people in there and continue things the way they are going.”
County Administrator and Budget Officer Michael Zurlo will release the budget plan at next Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting.
Rowden, a legislator since 2001, said the legislature will set budget sessions as needed and then hold a public hearing in early December before voting on a final package.
“We are in good fiscal shape, and I feel really good about ending on a high note,” she said.
Email Joe LoTemplio:firstname.lastname@example.org