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Potsdam village extends recreation funding another year

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POTSDAM — A village board compromise will continue to fund the Potsdam recreation program through June 2015, undoing last year’s decision to cease funding the program by January.

The village will continue its longstanding agreement with the town to contribute half of the $380,000 cost of recreation. The decision comes after a proposal for a recreation taxing district was shot down in a townwide referendum this month.

It was standing room only at the special Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, with about 30 people in attendance to learn the fate of the program.

The agreement passed 4-1, with Trustee Eleanor F. Hopke the only dissenting voice. The resolution acknowledges that the program is in need of change, and promises to improve the program to make it less expensive and more equitable.

This is not the deal for which Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis was hoping. He had planned to continue running the summer recreation program, while turning over the village-owned Pine Street Arena and management of the winter program to a private entity.

Trustees Ruth F. Garner, Stephen J. Warr and Ronald Tischler were determined to keep the winter program going.

“Until I can get the support of the majority of the members, which I do not now have, my hands are tied,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

He voted with the rest of the board, in the hopes the next year will be spent considering reforms. He has not given up hope of privatizing the arena.

Mr. Yurgartis has long been critical of the cost of the program. He said the winter program costs about $240,000 a year, and serves only about 300 children.

The board voted last year to drop support for its half of the recreation program, which is shared with the town. A town referendum, which would have created a special taxing district to raise money for recreation, failed this month, leaving the future of the program uncertain.

Ms. Garner said she would never vote against a recreation program for the children of Potsdam.

“We’re investing in the youth of our community, who will soon be the citizens who will be voting on programs for us,” she said.

Mr. Warr agreed, and volunteered to help investigate ways to run the program more efficiently.

“This is a great positive step,” he said.

Ms. Hopke strongly criticized the rest of the board for the decision. She said she supports the summer recreation program, but knows of few people who feel strongly about continuing to maintain the arena.

“Recreation is nice, and it’s good to have available, but it’s not essential,” she said.

She said by extending the program despite last year’s vote, the board is creating little incentive to enact lasting change.

“We should not do such a thing unless we are willing to follow through,” she said. “Are we going to go over all of this again next year?”

The board also approved the budget for 2014-15. The tax rate was set at $15.056 per $1,000 of assessed value. This is down 1.6 percent from last year, although some residents may end up paying more because of a recent townwide property reassessment that raised the total town tax base by about 11 percent.

If the recreation program were not extended, the tax rate would have been set at $14.624 per $1,000.

The budget takes effect June 1.

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