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Massena town officials address funding cuts with village

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MASSENA — Reduced allotments to several entities that the town funds with the village was done as part of broad cost-cutting measures, Town Council members told the village Board of Trustees at its Tuesday night meeting.

Town Councilman Charles A. Raiti said that from 2007 to 2010, the town spent approximately $1.27 million in gaming compact money on projects to improve the community, including about $49,000 for special projects of the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce and $50,000 for equipment purchases by the Massena Fire Department.

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, who also attended the village board meeting, said the town board had to make cuts to all services to avoid either exhausting its fund balance or raising property taxes beyond this year’s 29 percent hike on the rate inside the village.

“When the Town Council makes the decision to cut funding, it’s not on a whim; it’s not to put a cost burden on the village. It’s because we don’t have the funding,” Mr. Gray said. “What happens when there’s no money is we have to change the way we do things.”

Mr. Gray and Mr. Raiti were responding to Mayor James F. Hidy’s criticism of the town board for reducing funding for the Chamber of Commerce.

“The chamber is an entity that promotes events and functions that help bring revenue into our area,” Mr. Hidy said previously. “I think both the village and town boards should view it as essential to the municipality that we continue to fund the chamber in a responsible manner. I think we have a responsibility to keep funding it 50-50” between the town and village.

In its 2013 budget, the town reduced its chamber contribution from $10,000 to $8,100. However, the town previously provided additional funding for the chamber with the gaming compact money it received from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council. In 2011, the town gave approximately $22,000 to the chamber, and when the town stopped receiving the gaming compact money in 2012, its contribution to the chamber dropped to $10,000.

The town has a statute that limits its contributions to the chamber to $10,000, according to Councilman John F. Macaulay and Mr. Gray. Several years ago town officials held a referendum to raise the limit for its contribution, but voters chose to keep the $10,000 cap.

Mr. Gray and Mr. Raiti also raised the village’s decision to end code enforcement in the town outside the village. The town has contracted with the village for several years to use the services of former code enforcement officer Gregory C. Fregoe and firefighters trained in code enforcement. Since Mr. Fregoe’s resignation Jan. 22, the village has been relying on its career firefighters trained in code enforcement to handle Mr. Fregoe’s duties.

In an email sent to town officials Jan. 20, Mr. Hidy wrote that the village would continue to provide code enforcement service outside the village “for a short period of time” until the Town Council could implement an alternative.

“The announcement took me by surprise. Code enforcement worked very well up to this point in time, and it’s very perplexing” that the village would make these changes, Mr. Raiti said previously.

Both village and town officials have said the change was a result partly of the town board’s decision to reduce its annual contribution to the code enforcement office from approximately $57,000 in 2012 to about $40,000 in 2013. The cut lowered the town’s contribution from 50 to 40 percent of the office’s budget.

Mr. Gray argued that the town should not be bound to 50-50 funding for jointly funded entities because approximately 11,000 residents live inside the village and approximately 2,000 live in the town outside the village.

“To put 50 percent of the costs of recreation, or 50 percent of the costs of code enforcement on the 2,000 people who live outside the village is just not fair,” Mr. Gray said. “Forty percent even isn’t fair.”

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