By ANDY GARDNER
MASSENA -- The Town Council discussed giving casino compact funds to the Highway Department under the 2014 budget to offset the blow the department took when the funds dried up two years ago.
“The department that took the biggest hit is the Highway Department,” Councilman Albert Nicola said, noting that they haven’t been able to do as much paving as they should be or replace and repair equipment every time it’s needed.
Highway Superintendent Frank Diagastino said his department needs a new pickup truck that carries an approximate $32,000 price tag, a backhoe in the $85,000 range, and a mower for use at Massena International Airport that runs at around $20,000.
Town Supervisor Joseph Gray suggested using compact funds to support the Boys and Girls Club and the Downtown Revitalization Committee. If they made that move, he wants to donate on “a formula so the village will support them as well.”
Councilman John Macaulay was quick to point out that if it’s anything other than the town contributing 40 percent of a pre-determined cost and the village contributing 60 percent, it won’t go along with tax base derived from assessed value and some people will, in essence, be paying twice.
Councilman Charles Raiti said he thinks the town should take some of the compact revenues to cover a share of the airport’s operating budget. Doing so, he pointed out, would free up money to pay for the Highway Department.
“Moving money may be a budget trick for that fund … the (overall tax) rate stays the same,” Macaulay said. “We don’t really need to be perfect because we can transfer budget funds.”
Gray warned that making a fund dependent on casino revenue could have dire consequences down the line.
“If ever the casino money’s not there, taxes are going to go through the roof,” he said, citing last year’s more than 20 percent tax hike. “God forbid the Canadians ever open a casino in Cornwall.”
With the ever-fluctuating price tag of New York state retirement system contributions, Raiti suggested the board look at creating a reserve fund to cover that cost. But, Treasurer Nancy Fregoe pointed out that Albany will not allow that.
“You can’t set money aside for the future,” Fregoe said. “You’re supposed to raise what you need to operate year-to-year.”
“It makes no sense,” Gray said. “The comptroller’s office interprets the law … they can whack us in an audit. I think we should do what we need to do.”
The retirement costs are projected to go up 3 percent next year. State retirement is tied into the stock market, making it difficult to predict year-to-year costs.
The board briefly debated creating a revolving loan fund using compact money to fund projects that fall into the state guidelines for its use. That includes anything pertaining to economic development or gambling addiction treatment and education.
Fregoe pointed out the town would need an agency like the Business Development Corporation to administer such a program. Nicola pointed out that although it’s a good idea, “we really don’t have as much money as people think.”
The town board will hold another budget workshop on Wednesday at 5 p.m. prior to the regular October meeting.