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Massena town officials address funding cuts with village

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MASSENA - Town council members responded to recent criticism by the village’s mayor about their funding cuts to the code enforcement office and the chamber of commerce at Tuesday night’s village Board of Trustees meeting.

Town Councilman Charles A. “Chuck” Raiti pointed out that between 2007 and 2010 the town board had allocated approximately $1.27 million in gaming compact monies toward projects to improve the greater Massena community, including approximately $49,000 for special projects of the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce and $50,000 for equipment purchases at the Massena Fire Department.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray, who attended the village board meeting, supported Mr. Raiti’s position, saying the town board had to make cuts to all its services in its 2013 budget to avoid either exhausting its fund balance or raising property taxes beyond this year’s 29 percent hike on properties in 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 recent criticism of the town board for reducing its funding to the Greater Massena 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 provided approximately $22,000 toward the chamber, and when the town stopped receiving the gaming compact money in 2012, its contribution to the chamber dropped to $10,000.

Mr. Gray and Mr. Raiti also spoke about the village’s decision to end code enforcement in 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 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. Town officials expressed surprise at Mr. Hidy’s announcement and were disappointed at the need to hire a code enforcement officer to serve only the town outside the village.

“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),” Mr. Raiti said previously.

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

Mr. Hidy disagreed with Mr. Gray’s position, pointing out the town had previously received gaming compact monies and that the village is responsible for funding a large number of departments, including fire, police and public works.

“We still have to maintain our entities, and we don’t have the luxury of compact gaming monies,” Mr. Hidy said. “Now, keep in mind that the bulk of the town residents do live inside the village, (but) there are not a lot of town services that come to them, or that they can take advantage of. That’s where we’re coming from.”

Members of both boards expressed concern that there was too little communication among the boards, and that friction was created because of it.

“We’re finding out about (the town board’s) cuts after the fact. We’re looking at 50-50 splits for entities that we both support, and then your budget comes along and we see that you cut this, this and this,” Mr. Hidy said. “There was no dialogue coming from the town.”

Mr. Hidy suggested the town and village boards meet on a quarterly basis, a proposal that was not only well-received by other village and town board members, but previously suggested by some, as well. However, Mr. Gray wondered if additional meetings between the two boards would be enough to prevent future disagreements.

“If we came to you and said we were going to cut the chamber’s funding, what would that have changed?” Mr. Gray asked Mr. Hidy.

“Who knows what would have changed?” Mr. Hidy replied. “But the fact is we’ve gone through some issues here that we could have collectively sat down and talked about it. What we’re going to do, hopefully in the future, is (bring) the two boards together and collectively resolve issues. Because we’re all in this together.”

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