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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Gray: ‘there should have been discussions’ on code enforcement

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MASSENA - Members of the Massena Town Council were surprised and disappointed to learn the village will no longer provide code enforcement for the town.

“The announcement took me by surprise. Code enforcement worked very well up to this point in time, and it’s very perplexing (why the village would make these changes),” Councilman Charles A. “Chuck” Raiti said.

Councilman John F. Macaulay believes village officials made the decision without taking into account the concerns of town board members.

“As far as I’m concerned, it was a unilateral decision,” Mr. Macaulay said. “It’s crazy right now, and I think (the changes are) not best for both communities.”

Mayor James F. Hidy said he didn’t have discussions with town board members in the weeks prior to Jan. 20, when he sent an email informing them the village would no longer provide code enforcement for the town outside the village.

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 the email, 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.

“(The code office changes are) something that right now we’ve elected to go ahead with,” Mr. Hidy said. “There isn’t anything set in stone. We’re trying something new to save costs on the village taxpayers - that’s who we ultimately answer to.”

Mr. Hidy said the decision to stop code enforcement outside the village was unanimously supported by the village’s Board of Trustees.

“I don’t think it’s our obligation (to provide code enforcement for the town). Each entity can take care of its own properties,” Trustee Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies said.

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.”

Mr. Macaulay expects the town to hire a part-time code enforcement officer as a full-time position would exceed what the town had previously paid for code enforcement through the village.

“If we do staff it ... I suspect we won’t be able to fund that person for any more money than what we’re paying (the village for code enforcement),” Mr. Macaulay said.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray finds the option of the town hiring its own code enforcement officer as both wasteful and unfair.

“It just seems crazy to me for the town to hire its own code enforcement person, to work out the same office, but if that’s the path we have to take that’s what we’ll have to do,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Macaulay believes the village’s decision was prompted by the town reducing its funding for the code office from 50 to 40 percent. In its 2012 budget the town allocated $52,092 for code enforcement, plus an additional $5,000 for fire inspections through the fire department. In 2013, the town allocated $35,512 for code enforcement, and $5,000 for fire inspections.

Mr. Gray believes the town should fund a smaller percent of the code enforcement office’s budget, because the office does far more work inside the village than outside. In 2012, the code enforcement office issued 60 permits outside the village, and 422 permits inside the village.

“I think the town is paying more than their fair share at 40 percent, but (to split the funding) 50/50 just isn’t right, and I don’t think the village is ready to admit that yet,” Mr. Gray said.

Town officials broached the possibility of reducing code enforcement funding with the village board last April, citing the fact the town pays a comparable percentage to the recreation department. One trustee told town officials to give them six months to consider the reduction in funding, but officials from neither entity followed up, Mr. Gray said.

“In hindsight there probably should have been discussions, but there weren’t,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Hidy feels the town should have approached the village to discuss the funding reduction before passing it.

“The town did not come to us to discuss the cut in funding,” Mr. Hidy said. “If it’s a joint venture between two entities, there has to be discussions, and they failed to do that.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Gray feels Mr. Hidy did not adequately make town officials aware of the proposed changes in code enforcement. “It’s strange because (Mr. Hidy) talks with me every day,” he said.

Council members believe the changes in code enforcement will require more foresight from contractors and work crews. Mr. Raiti, who has some experience as a contractor, said that when work is delayed because of a lack of access to a code enforcement officer, the contractor often loses money in wages and equipment costs. He is concerned the resignation of Mr. Fregoe and the separation of the code enforcement offices will create a headache for local contractors.

Mr. Macaulay recommends residents and contractors schedule inspections further in advance, as there may no longer be an individual performing code enforcement work on a full-time basis.

“(Code enforcement) will no longer be an on-demand service,” he said.

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