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Massena board approves budget with double digit percent tax hike

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By RYNE R. MARTIN

MASSENA - The Massena Town Board, after weeks of discussion, has approved a 2013 spending plan that will raise town taxes by nearly $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value for property owners.

Massena town officials said the 2013 budget will result in a 29 percent tax rate hike - 99 cents per $1,000 - for town residents living inside the village boundaries and a 21 percent tax rate increase - 93 cents per $1,000 - for town residents living outside the village.

Tax rates will climb from $3.46 per $1,000 to $4.45 per $1,000 for town residents living in the village and from $4.41 per $1,0000 to $5.34 for town residents outside the village.

A taxpayer with property assessed at $90,000 living inside the village will see the town tax portion of their January tax bill jump by $89.10 from last year. A taxpayer with that same assessment outside the village will see an $83.70 increase in their town tax bill.

The budget adoption was a mere formality after the Town Council had spent the last several weeks in work sessions reviewing and revising a spending plan drafted by Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

Before adopting the budget, the Town Council said they would pay $79,000 to the village to contract for fire protection services for property outside the village limits, the same allocation as the current year. Mr. Gray acknowledged he hadn’t negotiated the contract with village officials.

Councilman Albert N. Nicola said village officials needed to be aware of the town’s fiscal issues and recognize the town would resume purchasing additional equipment for the fire department if it receives additional tribal compact monies over the coming year.

“I would certainly hope they would recognize the difficulties we are having with this particular budget,” he noted.

Mr. Gray said village officials are well aware of the fiscal challenges facing the town.

“It’s the best we can do. This is a difficult budget for us. I full well expect this won’t be a problem for them,” the town supervisor noted.

“It’s simply we don’t have the money,” Councilman Charles A. Raiti concurred. “They are going to have to share the pain.”

Councilman John F. Macaulay said the monies allocated from the compact funds far exceeded the dollars that would have gone to the village for fire protection if the two parties had negotiated 5 percent increases in the past several contracts.

Mr. Nicola also expressed concern about the potential impact of any last-minute changes in the sales tax revenue distribution formula when the county Legislature finalizes its 2013 spending plan after the Town Council has already adopted its budget for next year.

Town officials acknowledged that doesn’t seem likely this year - Mr. Nicola said the three legislators representing Massena have said they would oppose the change, and Mr. Gray noted he had been at a meeting with several county lawmakers and didn’t believe there was support for making that move.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of taste for changing it this year. Next year, who knows?” he said.

The 2013 budget adopted by the Town Council will collect $522,705 more in property tax revenue than in 2012.

Mr. 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.

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.

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

Town officials have said they expect the 2014 budget to be as challenging as this year’s spending plan, if not worse.

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