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Hidy plans to end shared code enforcement with town

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MASSENA - Town officials will consider whether to hire their own code enforcement officer after Mayor James F. Hidy announced the village will no longer provide code enforcement for the town.

The town has contracted with the village for the past several years to utilize 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 former 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 for code enforcement.

Mr. Hidy said the decision to stop providing code enforcement for the town is intended to keep firefighters with code training closer to the village for emergency situations.

“I don’t want (those firefighters) out at the east plant of Alcoa when there’s a call in the village,” Mr. Hidy said. “We had discussed changes in code enforcement, utilizing firemen, and it made perfect sense to keep (those firemen) focused on the village.”

Massena Fire Department Foreman and career firefighter Ken McGowan said the department has not encountered such a situation yet. But he doesn’t see this scenario as a serious problem, because the department always has at least two career firefighters on staff.

Mr. Hidy said he’d discussed the code enforcement changes with the town and made town officials aware that the village may stop providing this service to the town.

But Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he’d received no warning of the change prior to the “mysterious” email from Mr. Hidy. That announcement came as a surprise to Mr. Gray, who called the lack of forewarning somewhat unprofessional.

“It’s strange because (Mr. Hidy) talks with me every day,” he said.

Mr. Gray plans to hold a special meeting with town council members in order to discuss their options for code enforcement. The only options he sees are to either persuade the village’s board of trustees to continue contracting code enforcement with the town or for the town to hire its own code enforcement officer. Mr. Gray finds the latter option both wasteful and unfair. He noted under this arrangement there would be two separate code enforcement departments working out of the same office.

“For the town to go and hire a separate code enforcement officer seems kind of fooliish. Would it also make sense to kick the village out of the town offices?” Mr. Gray asked rhetorically, alluding to the fact the code office and other village offices are located inside the Massena Town Hall, which is owned by the town.

“We’re supposed to be coorperating for the community,” Mr. Gray added.

Mr. Hidy welcomed the possibility of the town hiring its own code enforcement officer, seeing it as a savings for village taxpayers.

“We’re going to utilize the fire department (for code enforcement inside the village, and) we’re going to see some savings out of that,” Mr. Hidy said. “Going forward we’re taking necessary steps to serve the interests of the village. We’re hoping that the direction (the town) takes is to hire their own code enforcement officer.”

There are currently five Massena firefighters with some level of code enforcement training. Mr. McGowan and career firefighters Aaron Hardy and Bill O’Brien are trained as code enforcement officers. Two other career firefighters, Jeremy Lefeve and Matt Tuper, are trained as code compliance technicians. Career firefighter Walt Bean will finish his code compliance technician training later this week, Mr. McGowan said.

A code compliance technician is trained in enforcing the fire and property maintenance codes, but is not certified in other code enforcement officer duties, such as issuing building permits or inspecting new construction projects.

The fire department has at least one firefighter with some level of code enforcement training on staff at all times, Mr. McGowan said.

Mr. Gray believes Mr. Hidy’s decision to end code enforcement with the town is a response to town officials electing to fund a lower portion of the code enforcement office’s budget. At the beginning of the year, the town moved to reduce its funding from 50 to 40 percent of the code office’s budget.

Mr. Gray said town officials broached this possibility with the village board last April, saying the town pays a comparable percentage to the recreation department. He believes the town should pay a smaller percentage because the town has fewer residents, and thus, generates less revenue from taxes.

“It seems the mayor has a problem with that (funding reduction),” Mr. Gray said.

The town supervisor also raised questions over Mr. Hidy’s plan to bill the town for code enforcement work on an hourly basis, because firefighters provide code enforcement for the village in addition to their primary duties as rescue workers. Given this fact, it could be difficult for the village to put a price on code enforcement service, he argued.

“I’m not sure how the village will bill us because they’re already paying the firefighters to be firefighters,” Mr. Gray said.

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