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Massena officials lower proposed tax increase

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MASSENA - The Massena Town Council is proceeding with a 2013 budget plan that will collect $522,705 more in property tax revenue than in 2012.

Supervisor Joseph D. Gray’s proposal had included increasing the property tax levy by more than $725,000 and cutting funding to most outside agencies, including the Massena Humane Society, Meals on Wheels and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed tax rate increase for those inside the village under Mr. Gray’s proposal was $1.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from $3.46 to $4.79, a 38.4 percent increase. For those outside the village, there was a proposed $1.32 increase, from $4.41 to $5.73, a 30 percent climb from the 2012 rate.

Instead, the council’s revised plan collects approximately $200,000 less in property taxes than Mr. Gray’s proposal. The tax rate would rise by $0.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation inside the village to $4.45, a 29 percent increase and nearly 10 percent less than originally proposed. Outside the village, the rate would rise $0.93 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to $5.34, a 21 percent increase or approximately nine percent less than originally proposed.

“It’s still going to be frowned at,” Councilman John F. Macaulay said. “It’s still almost yeoman-like compared to where we started.”

The council will meet again on Nov. 5 to approve the revisions as a preliminary spending plan, then will convene again on Nov. 14 to finalize. Officials emphasized the spending plan was not yet final and could make additional changes to it.

The council lowered the proposed increase in several ways. It cut the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena’s funding to $30,000 instead of the $60,000 proposed. The Massena Public Library would see an approximately $65,000 reduction on top of the $13,000 cut Mr. Gray had proposed.

Most “discretionary spending,” including funding to outside agencies, would experience an additional 10 percent cut on top of Mr. Gray’s proposal, which already had included at least a 10 percent reduction to the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

In addition, the council will use more fund balance than originally proposed. Its fund balances collectively may drop from an estimated $1,212,774 at the end of 2012 to $872,774 by the end of next year in order to offset an increase in property tax increases, according to Bookkeeper Nancy A. Fregoe.

Officials said it was difficult to cut more than that because most other budget costs are rooted in personnel expenses. Councilman Charles A. Raiti said he did not want to furlough staff, but that it could eventually come to that.

Mr. Gray worried the council may be using too much fund balance to offset a tax increase.

“If we continue to hack away at the fund balance, we’re going to be in big trouble in 2014,” Mr. Gray said.

Mr. Raiti pointed out the 29 percent tax rate increase actually translates to approximately $100 more per year in taxes to a village homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000. That number was more palatable to him than the 29 percent statistic.

“Twenty-nine percent scares the living snot out of me and everybody else,” he said.

But Councilman Albert N. Nicola said the tax increase was still difficult for business owners, landlords and those on fixed incomes. Mr. Nicola said the board will have to start working on its 2014 budget in January.

“(It’s) going to be as hard if not more difficult than this one,” he said.

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