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Village officials asking for more department cuts to lower tax levy increase

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MASSENA - Village officials are going back to department heads to ask them to cut some more from their budget proposals so the tax levy increase can be lowered to at least 5 percent.

As it stands now, they’re looking at a 5.9 percent tax levy increase after meeting with officials from the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena and Massena Recreation Department Tuesday night.

“Is 5.9 palatable? I just don’t think it’s going to go. I don’t think that’s going to have a consensus. I think we’d have better success if it was around 5 percent. Six percent is still pretty high,” Trustee Timothy Ahlfeld said. “We either raise taxes or we cut expenses. If we get to 5, I’m still not happy with 5.”

The board cut $10,000 from both the BDC and Recreation Department budgets, taking their contribution to the BDC down to $30,000 and the Recreation Department down to $333,788.

Mayor James F. Hidy said they had initially looked at providing $60,000 to the BDC before scaling that back to $40,000 and then $30,000 during Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’re not doing $60 (thousand). We initially thought we could do $60, but because of our situation it’s scaled back to $40 (thousand),” he said before trustees agreed to cut another $10,000.

But that wasn’t enough, according to village board members, who said they would need to cut another $50,000 to get the tax levy increase down to 5 percent. Earlier this month they had been looking at an 8.6 percent, but that fell to 6.3 percent after Massena Police Chief Timmy J. Currier cut his department’s expenses by $125,444.

Mr. Hidy suggested it would be difficult to lower the tax levy increase any more because of cuts department heads had already made in their 2014-15 spending plans.

“You’ve heard from everybody. Tell me where we should cut,” he said.

In addition to cuts already made by department heads, Mr. Hidy said there were line items in the budget that they had no control over.

“We have costs that are uncontrollable. Four percent (of the budget) is uncontrollable costs,” such as insurance and workman’s comp, he said. “There’s 4 percent of it you can’t even touch. It’s down to 1-something (percent).”

Mr. Ahlfeld said that one thing he didn’t want to do was use more fund balance. The budget is using $250,000 from fund balance compared to last year’s $572,937. That leaves them with $625,000, he said.

“That’s not a lot,” he said.

But Trustee Albert “Herb” Deshaies felt otherwise, suggesting they take another $50,000 from the fund balance.

“I heard a comment at the last budget meeting to go back to all the department heads and tell them to knock 5 percent off their budget; you guys pick and choose. We have to get this down. It’s way too high. People won’t accept a 7 percent increase in taxes,” he said.

BDC Executive Director Thomas Sullivan and Recreation Director Richard A. Boprey explained their budgets during Tuesday’s session.

Mr. Sullivan said they had a number of on-going initiatives, such as the rail spur project to the Massena Industrial Park, working with the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response Trust on the former GM site, working with the River Valley Redevelopment Association and county Industrial Development Agency, attending trade shows and working on downtown revitalization.

“We’ll respectfully accept what you deem appropriate for our budget,” he said, noting their funding had gone from $75,000 to $60,000 to its current level over the years.

“We’ll find things we won’t be able to participate in,” Mr. Sullivan said.

He said they had planned to relocate from their current offices at the Department of Public Works to the downtown corridor to become more visible.

“We haven’t acted on that because we didn’t know where the budget process was going,” he said.

Mr. Boprey said the Recreation Department had looked at areas where they could increase revenues,such as through fees they charge for their facilities, as well as where they could cut costs. They presented a third draft of their budget for consideration Tuesday.

Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray commended recreation officials for the work they had done on the spending plan. He said, after seeing the initial budget draft, they went back to the Recreation Department and asked if more cuts could be made.

“They were able to make some cuts. From the town’s standpoint, we appreciate that. It has less impact on the town and village budgets. We’re very appreciative of your efforts. We appreciate the work you did,” Mr. Gray said. “We’re in favor of the third version.”

Councilman Albert N. Nicola noted that, when one of the Recreation Department’s employees retired, recreation officials opted not to fill the position to save money.

“This budget is where it is because they chose not to fill it. It’s a big chunk. It would be significantly higher. They do a very, very good job on a pretty thin budget,”he said.

Despite the cuts, however, village officials still need to whittle their budget down further and approve the spending plan, something they had hoped to do Tuesday. But, with more cuts necessary, they’ll need to call a special meeting with their department heads.

Trustee Patricia Wilson said she did not want to see extremely deep cuts.

“I don’t want to see a community that has no services,” she said.

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