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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York

Massena officials mull future of road paving; tax increase possible

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MASSENA - Town officials have a solution for a potential funding shortage this year: don’t pave the roads.

But those roads will eventually need paving, and town officials say a property tax increase may have to fund them in the future.

The town typically paves about three miles of road each year, according to Highway Superintendent Frank Diagostino. There are over 38 miles of road outside the village the department maintains.

It currently costs $300,000 to do that, Mr. Diagostino said. Approximately $230,000 typically comes from gaming compact funds, while the rest is money the state reimburses the town. By next year, those costs could rise to nearly $350,000.

Disputes with the gaming compact between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe and New York state are jeopardizing that $230,000 in paving funds. The compact requires the tribe to send a portion of its revenues from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino to the state. The state then shares a portion of the money with St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, which in turn split up some of their allotments to the towns of Massena, Brasher, Fort Covington and Bombay.

Tribal officials stopped paying the state in late 2010 because of a competing gaming facility operating slot machines in Altona, Clinton County, which they said breached the contract.

Massena town officials are still awaiting a $750,000 payment from 2011 and additional money for 2012. In total, the county, Massena and Brasher are waiting for $5.5 million from 2011 and 2012.

Without that funding, town officials plan to hold off on paving roads this year. The $70,000 in remaining state funding will go toward paving less than a mile of Trippany Road, which board members deemed a high priority.

But Mr. Diagostino said his department will eventually need more funding again to repave the roads.

“It’s just going to keep piling on,” he said after Wednesday night’s board meeting. “You are never going to get ahead.”

That could leave a tax increase as one of the few solutions left to pave the roads, councilmen Charles A. Raiti and John F. Macaulay said. That cost would fall to ratepayers outside the village, since those inside already pay for those roads.

“We’ve got to find $300,000 somehow to get back on track with the roads,” he said. “It’s coming down the pike.”

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray agreed a tax increase could happen. He did not have an estimate of how $230,000 in additional expenses would affect taxes available Wednesday night.

“It’s becoming increasingly obvious the casino money cannot be counted upon,” he said. “If we’re going to maintain roads, we’re going to have to find a way to pay for them. Unfortunately the way to do that is through a tax increase.”

Paving roads is a necessity, Mr. Gray said.

“You don’t have a whole lot of choice,” he said. “If you’re going to drive on roads, they have to be maintained.”

Another option would be to use some of the leftover snow removal money from the previous mild winter, an option Mr. Macaulay supported. Mr. Diagostino did not have the amount of extra money from the mild winter available Wednesday night.

“It was a good winter for us, and we need to take advantage of it if we didn’t get gaming compact money,” he said.

Mr. Raiti preferred that money be kept for snow removal.

“We’ve been lucky with snow but sooner or later we’re going to get nailed,” he said.

There was a time prior to the gaming compact’s approval last decade when the town paved roads without those funds. Back then, there was a lot more revenue to do so, town officials said.

“We had General Motors and Reynolds running full bore,” Mr. Raiti said.

“The assessments were higher. Sales tax revenue was higher,” Mr. Gray added. “It was cheaper to pave roads.”

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