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Massena town officials plan to hire code enforcement officer

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MASSENA - The Massena Town Council is planning to hire a part-time code enforcement officer to handle all code enforcement-related work within the town outside the village.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said he’d already been contacted by one individual who was interested in the position, and town officials decided to advertise for the position for a week to give all interested individuals a fair opportunity to apply. The town is looking for a person to work 20 to 25 hours per week, including regular office hours, and handle all aspects of code enforcement in the town outside the village, including issuing building permits and conducting fire inspections.

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, Mayor James F. 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.

One issue between the separation of code enforcement is use of the code enforcement office, which is staffed by full-time secretary Avis Hazelton.

After some discussion, town board members elected to no longer share any costs of code enforcement with the village.

“My thought was that if the village was divorcing themselves from us on a shared service that we should divorce ourselves from them,” Councilman John F. Macaulay said. “I just think if we stayed connected we’d be arguing back and forth on how much money we should be paying and all that stuff.”

Town officials said the person they hire would still be able to utilize the code enforcement office because the Massena Town Hall is owned by the town, but may not be able to utilize the services of Ms. Hazelton unless the town contracts with the village. At this point town officials have no plans to do contract with the village, but they stressed this decision was not a reflection on the performance of Ms. Hazelton or any other employees in the town and village offices.

Mr. Macaulay believes that in an age of cell phones and email a secretary may no longer be needed to conduct code enforcement business in the town.

“I think if we got this guy or gal a good cell phone we won’t need anyone taking messages,” Mr. Macaulay said. “If we publish that cell phone number, (the code enforcement officer) can pick that phone up wherever he is.”

Mr. Macaulay noted that many Americans, including himself, no longer own house phones because of the convenience of cell phones. He also recommended they provide the code enforcement officer with a data plan with mobile internet access, so that person can access code and building information while out of the office.

Deputy Clerk Pamela Catanzarite informed town board members that residents may receive information packets on both the building code and the application process for building permits through the town clerk’s office.

Councilman Charles A. “Chuck” Raiti said the ownership of zoning maps within the code enforcement office would not be an issue because those maps are the property of Town Assessor Michael C. Ward.

Mr. Raiti also said the town may see some savings by parting from the village in code enforcement, pointing out the disparity in the amount the town has paid the village for code enforcement and that actual amount of code enforcement work that is needed in the town outside the village.

In 2012, the code enforcement office issued 60 permits outside the village, and 422 permits inside the village, according to Mr. Gray. In its 2013 budget, the town reduced its share of total funding for the code enforcement 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.

“We tried to tell them they were getting a good deal at 60/40 percent,” Mr. Raiti 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.”

Mr. Hidy also 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.”

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.

Council members believe the changes in code enforcement will require more foresight from contractors and work crews.

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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