Quiet Public Hearing For Lewis County Budget

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Just a few years ago, a public hearing on the Lewis County budget packed a high school auditorium.

This year, 20 people showed. Only one of them stepped to the microphone. He was concerned about how the budget crunch would impact libraries.

But mostly, there were empty seats.

"I thought the meeting went very, very well," said legislature chair Jack Bush.

In fact, the hearing was supposed to last at least a half an hour, but was over after just 10 minutes.

Officials say the lack of buzz is likely due to residents doing their homework.

"The tentative budget was posted on our website and individuals called and received copies of the tentative budget," county manager Dave Pendergast said.

"So, I can't give an answer as to why, except to assume that they understood the budget," he said.

When it comes to trimming fat off the budget, legislators say they've already hit the bone.

Fewer major cuts mean fewer angry residents and that's a refreshing change for officials.

"Last year, and some of the years before, the room has been filled right to the brim and there's been a lot of people talking and the meetings have been heated in the past," Bush said

The proposed budget itself is not exactly great news for the county.

It calls for an increase to the tax rate, $7.17 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. That's up 18 cents from last year.

County departments were asked to cut another 10 percent.

Bush says the tax increase is unavoidable.

"The increases that we have to face are just like anybody else," he said.

"The cost of gasoline, diesel fuel goes up, the unfunded mandates. Those are more expensive this year," he said.

Now that the public hearing is done, county legislators expect to vote on the proposed budget on December 4.

Monday, September 15, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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