By ANDY GARNDER
MASSENA -- The Town Council unanimously adopted a preliminary 2014 budget that calls for a 5-percent reduction to the village tax rate and a 14-percent reduction to the town tax rate. The board can still make changes prior to casting the final vote on Nov. 20.
Under the spending plan, a $50,000 piece of property in the village will be taxed $211.50 – which is $19.80 less than last year; a $100,000 piece of property in the town will be taxed $423 – a $67.50 decrease over last year. Overall, the village would levy $230,567.17 less than last year.
Prior to the vote, two entities appealed to the board for an increase in funding while a third said they are satisfied with the town’s tentative pledge.
The Business Development Corporation (BDC) asked for $106,000 to help cover a shortfall in its railway project. They also asked for an additional $15,000 to go towards the director’s and administrative assistant’s salaries because they do more work than originally planned. The tentative 2014 budget called for a $60,000 contribution.
“With [$106,000], we’ll be able to complete … the track,” BDC board member Paul Rufa said.
They have most of the $942,200 railway project cost covered with grants and in-kind services from Curran Renewable Energy. The goal is to make a rail line that runs into the industrial park so that Curran Logging can send its product via train, but other businesses would be able to use the loading and unloading facilities.
The board seemed supportive of the project, but doesn’t have at the money to spare.
“We’ve got to get small manufacturing businesses the ability to do this kind of thing so they can bring jobs to the area,” Councilman Charles Raiti said.
BDC president Dan Pease suggested the town dip into casino compact funds, but several board members noted that it’s hard to tell how much they’ll get year-to-year and its even harder to tell for how long the payments will continue.
Councilman John Macaulay said they should ask for money from the county Industrial Development Agency, since the town gives money to the River Valley Redevelopment Agency which gives some of it to the IDA.
“You would think they could throw in … some menial amount to the $106,000,” he said.
Macaulay also suggested they look at taking out a loan.
The town and the BDC agreed to a $15,000 increase over their budgeted $30,000 for next year. The money will come out of their most recent casino compact payment and won’t be used until 2014. Pease said the salary increase for the director and administrative assistant is “not a raise, it’s a recognition of the hours they’re working.” He noted that BDC director Tom Sullivan is working up to 30 hours per week, he was brought on-board with the thought he would be only need to work 20 to 25. His administrative assistant is in the same boat – she works up to 25, they thought she could do her job in 15.
“It’s requiring more time than 20 hours per week to do it the justice that needs to be done,” Sullivan told the board.
Representatives of the Massena Public Library appealed for an extra $5,000 to help buy current books and periodicals. Their preliminary spending blueprint calls for $45,000 to be spent in that area, with a total preliminary budget of $714,752.
The two groups debated whether the library had made sound decisions in the past to spend from its fund balance, which could have been used to cover the cost, to pay for a part-time children’s librarian during times of dire financial straits. Library officials said there isn’t enough of their reserve fund left to cover the $5,000.
“If we cut personnel money last year … but more personnel was added that wasn’t in the budget … you’re going to have to take away from other things,” Macaulay said.
Library director Elaine Dunne-Thayer said children’s and young adult programs are a huge portion of their day-to-day business and helps keep the public coming through the doors. She said more than 50 percent of their daily traffic is there for those purposes.
“If we eliminate [the children’s librarian] completely, we may as well shut the whole room,” Dunne-Thayer said. “If we shut the children out, we shut out their families and we may as well close the doors.”
“We’re not asking for $35,000, we’re not asking for a fishing tournament, we’re asking for library books,” library board member Mark Englert said.
Officials with the Massena Chamber of Commerce said they are satisfied with the town’s preliminary allocation of $14,500, a $6,400 increase over last year, but $500 less than requested.
“We are pleased and thank you for your … allocation,” Chamber of Commerce president Miriam Catapano said. “We are pleased with any additional money.”
Of the contribution, $9,500 will go towards operations and $5,000 will pay for summer help at the Eisenhower Lock gift shop.
“Without the additional summer help, [the lock gift shop is] not a money maker,” Catapano said. “It’s a service to both the town and the area.”
She noted that their membership is currently more than 300 local and area businesses, but it is in flux as they come and go.
Catapano said the operation monies will help pay for a new employee at the chamber, which should be hired by Jan. 1.
The board will hold a final budget workshop on Oct. 30 at 5:30 p.m. There will be a public hearing regarding the fire protection contract and the overall budget on Nov. 6. The board will vote to adopt a final budget on Nov. 20.