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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Massena mayor proposes $8.8 million spending plan

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MASSENA - Mayor James F. Hidy has proposed an $8.8 million 2012-2013 spending plan calling for a 4.63 percent tax levy hike and keeping most village services intact.

But Trustees Timothy J. Ahlfeld, Albert C. “Herb” Deshaies and Francis J. Carvel have expressed interest in altering the 3.5 percent proposed employee salary increases and the tax hike before finalizing the budget.

The amount to be raised in property taxes in Mr. Hidy’s proposal is set to jump by $226,989, from $4,898,319 to $5,125,307. The tax rate will increase from $14.48 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $15.38, a 6.2 percent jump. That means a Massena property owner with a $100,000 house would pay $90 more in taxes than last year.

That increase is even with $100,000 in general fund savings from switching employee health insurance providers and an additional $100,000 in anticipated sales tax revenue, Treasurer Daniel E. Case told village board members Tuesday.

Mr. Hidy said his proposal was a responsible spending plan. He said he wanted to keep services intact as much as possible for residents.

“It’s not our intent to cut any services or lay any people off,” Mr. Hidy said. “I feel I’ve adopted a budget that’s workable provided what everybody needs to do the job.”

Mr. Hidy did cut $10,000 from the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena in his proposal, from $30,000 to $20,000.

“The way we’re watching our dollars I think 20 grand is fair and equitable for them,” he said.

The Massena Police Department and Massena Fire Department equipment lines are set to decrease by 52.4 percent and 11.4 percent, or $46,482 and $1,817, respectively.

“They’ve looked at what they need from what they got last year. They’re pretty much up to snuff,” he said.

But rising state retirement expenses and the “cost of doing business” forced a tax increase, Mr. Hidy said. Further cuts could compromise village services, he said.

“You’re cutting for the sake of cutting and not making responsible cuts,” he said.

Mr. Ahlfeld said he wanted to lower Mr. Hidy’s projected 3.5 percent increases in “personal services” expenses for union and non-union staff, which includes salary.

“Taking a quick look at your budget, I think the personal services at 3.5 percent is a mistake. And the reason why I think it’s a mistake is we’re not even trying to stay within the 2 percent cap the governor and our state leadership has kind of suggested.”

The village should budget a lower number as it heads into contract negotiations with its unions this spring, Mr. Ahlfeld said.

“It’s difficult to pick a number,” Mr. Ahlfeld said. “I just think the number you selected is too high.”

“In this day and age, we can sit here and say ‘there’s no way we can hit the mark,’” he added. “We didn’t even try.”

The village needed to budget some type of increase, Mr. Hidy said Wednesday. Without one, the village could run into trouble if it budgets no increase but contract negotiations down the road require one.

“It’s always easier to come down but it’s not as easy to go up,” he said.

Mr. Carvel and Mr. Deshaies both were hesitant at Mr. Hidy’s proposed tax increase.

“Anything over 0 percent is too much of an increase,” Mr. Carvel said. “The older people in this community cannot afford to keep on taking the hit. I’ve had many, many senior citizens in this community approach me, saying ‘When is it going to stop?’ Their income is the same as 25, 30 years ago when they retired. It doesn’t go as far as it did back then ... It wouldn’t be bad for them to get a little bit of their own money back.”

Mr. Deshaies said more may need to be cut from the budget.

“We’ve got to see where we can cut the fat from the meat, see what we can do, how we can do it,” Mr. Deshaies said. “Maybe we can. maybe we can’t, but the thing is, we’ve got to try. That’s what we’re here for.”

Taxpayers deserve a decrease, he said.

“If they could save a few cents, and they could better themselves, why not? “If we can get down to zero or minus, if we can do that, more power to us. We’ve done our homework, done it well. We might have made some people mad at us, but this is what we’re here for,” Mr. Deshaies said.

Mr. Hidy said the other trustees were entitled to their opinions. The entire board will now debate and revise the budget in the coming weeks. The village board will likely pass a final budget by the end of April.

“That’s up to the trustees,” he said. “I’m sure they’re going to take a hard look at it.”

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