By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — Clinton County legislators approved the 2013 budget and a new tobacco policy Wednesday night.
The $155 million spending plan features a tax-levy increase of 1.3 percent and a composite tax rate of $6.07 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
“In light of the tax cap and the economy, we are being responsible for the future as well as the current times, and we wanted to get as close to zero as we could,” Legislature Chairman Jimmy Langley (R-Area 7, Peru) said.
“We know what is expected of us, and we can see what the economy is doing, and while we may be doing well here, there are a lot of issues to look at.”
The tax-levy increase is 1.8 percent below what the state tax cap would have allowed. The tax rate is just two cents higher than the 2012 rate.
The county’s finances were bolstered this year by a boon in sales-tax revenue, which was more than $3 million above projections. The county also benefited from the sale of its home-health-care service to a private firm, which saved about $1.7 million.
A public hearing on the spending plan last week drew no complaints.
Langley said the challenge is to balance the need to provide necessary services with those of financially struggling taxpayers.
“We realize there are a lot of issues out there, but we want to be a place where people can get services, and we can still be responsible to the taxpayer’s wallets,” Langley said.
“We are doing good right now, but that’s not the be all that ends all. We know there are still a lot of people struggling out there.”
The budget was approved by unanimous vote.
Legislators also approved a new law regarding tobacco use on county property.
The law says that no smoking or use of any tobacco product is allowed on county property, except at the landfill and Clinton Community College. Those two properties are owned by the county but run by their own entities and have established tobacco policies.
Also, smoking is permitted in an area about 100 yards away from the main terminal building at Plattsburgh International Airport.
People will also be able to smoke inside their own vehicles on county property.
The law can be enforced by any local law-enforcement officer, including court officers who work in the County Government Center.
Violators could face a $500 fine.
The policy, which takes effect July 1, 2013, was approved by an 8-2 vote.
Legislators Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh) and Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown) voted against the law.
Dame said he agrees that people should not smoke on county property but felt the law goes too far.
“I’m all in favor of keeping second-hand smoke away from people, but this is government intrusion,” said Dame, who quit smoking five years ago.
“You can’t use snuff. Come on, this is too much. Government is not here to take care of people’s personal health. We can put up a sign asking people not to smoke and give them a place away from everybody else to smoke, and that would work just as well.”
Dyer said he would rather see a policy than an actual law, and he believes it should cover all county properties.
“We spend a lot of money from the (national) tobacco settlement, and where do you think that money comes from, and now we are telling people they can’t smoke,” he said.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too, but it was a good discussion, it’s over, and let’s move on.”
Email Joe LoTemplio: firstname.lastname@example.org