Counties face losing millions of dollars in state aid

Updated: Apr. 29, 2020 at 2:03 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - North country counties are already facing losses in sales tax revenue and other income. Now, they might lose millions in state aid on top of that.

The New York State Association of Counties says the state is considering a 50 percent cutback on county aid.

That's a $10 million hit for Jefferson County, nearly $4 million for Lewis County and millions for St. Lawrence County.

This is on top of existing financial struggles with the loss of sales tax revenue.

Some county leaders expected a move like this by the state.

"When you have an emergency like we're having right now, then these types of financial and budget problems follow," said Lewis County Manager Ryan Piche.

Other county officials are angry with the state's suggestion to take from counties to balance the budget.

"It's out-of-control spending, it's spending the state can't afford to do by itself, so they pass it on down to the counties. If the state mandates something, if the state decides to do something, they should assume responsibility for paying for it, not to spread it out over all the counties, that is completely unfair, we have our own things to deal with," said Joe Lightfoot, St. Lawrence County Legislature chair.

If the 50 percent cut happens, counties will have to rely on their savings account, or fund balance.

"But you can only sustain using that for so long. We cannot withstand multiple quarters with 50 percent reductions," said Jefferson County Legislature Chair Scott Gray.

"The only other options that will be available are to cut programs or cut positions," said Lightfoot.

The possiblity of raising taxes is also looming, but officials say nothing is set in stone yet.

"We anticipate we're going to have some very low sales tax numbers, but we don't know for sure. We anticipate that these state cuts are going to be deep, but we don't know for sure," said Piche.

Officials say they're hoping either for a stimulus package directed toward local governments or the state deciding another way to balance the budget.

“I can’t believe for a moment that the senate majority leader doesn’t have enough staff around him to direct aid to the state. If he can’t, perhaps they need to find a new leader,” said Gray.

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