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Gray: expect tax increase, spending cuts in budget

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MASSENA - Next year’s town budget will likely include a tax increase and funding cuts to outside agencies, according to Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

Mr. Gray is compiling his preliminary 2013 spending proposal, which he has to release by Sept. 30. He has not yet finalized what the tax increase and spending cuts will be, but factors at play in this year’s budget will necessitate them, he said.

The Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce, North Country Life Flight, Massena Senior Citizens, Meals on Wheels and Massena Humane Society are among the agencies which could see funding cuts, he said. Those organizations are funded anywhere from $2,500 to $53,500 annually.

Officials have worried about running out of gaming compact funding for the last couple of years. This year, that may actually happen and could prompt some of the cuts in Mr. Gray’s proposal.

More than $12 million in revenues is owed to St. Lawrence and Franklin counties and the towns of Massena, Brasher, Bombay and Fort Covington after the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe held up funding over a dispute with the state. The $12 million represents the counties’ and towns’ combined share of proceeds from the reservation’s casino.

Massena had received anywhere from $182,819 to $555,613 in gaming compact revenues between 2007 and 2010. The town made it through last year by spending money left over from previous years’ allocations, but ran out of that money in 2012.

Mr. Gray’s 2013 budget will not budget any casino revenue. Besides outside agency cuts, paving of roads will also be affected in Mr. Gray’s plan.

“We were barely able to pave one road this year,” Mr. Gray said. “If we’re going to pave roads, we’re going to have to find a way to cover that in the budget without compact money.

“There’s only so much money to go around,” he said.

One agency that may fare well in the budget is the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena. The Town Council previously voted to increase that agency’s funding from $30,000 to $60,000. The town will have to find a new source to pay for the BDC, as the $30,000 it paid in the 2012 budget was from compact money.

BDC officials previously said they would run out of money in the next couple of years if they didn’t receive a boost from the town and village. Mr. Gray said investing in the BDC is a good idea, as the agency could create new jobs and revenue.

“It has the potential for a return on investment,” he said.

The town could also use some of its unused fund balance to defray the tax increase and cuts, but Mr. Gray cautioned against using too much. There is $1,443,965 of unused fund balance; a year ago, the town allocated approximately $670,000 of its $2.1 million.

“We’ve been using fund balance for the past few years,” Mr. Gray said. “We can only do that for so long.”

He also blamed rising state retirement costs on the escalating budget, and called for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to amend the system and require employees to pay into it.

“Because of things beyond our control, our budget continues to increase,” he said.

The Massena Town Council will hold its regular monthly meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. Mr. Gray plans to ask the council to approve a property tax cap override in case the final budget exceeds the state’s limits. The council will schedule a series of budget workshops to finalize the spending plan in October after Mr. Gray releases his proposal.

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