Potsdam town supervisor concerned with legal issues after village board moves to end participation in joint recreation program
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - 5:40 pm

By CRAIG FREILICH

POTSDAM – Town Supervisor Marie Regan thinks the village’s abandonment of the joint town-village recreation program, leaving it to the town government, is not as simple as village officials tell her it is.

Without warning or discussion, the village board moved unilaterally Monday to end its participation in the recreation program that the town and village have run together for many years.

But Regan says legal complications could kill the program.

The town has set a special public meeting Tuesday, March 26 at 6:30 p.m. for the supervisor and councilors to discuss the matter.

Regan accuses village government of disrespect and of “trying to look good” by lowering their tax rate while the town’s rate would go up.

The annual cost for the program was about $320,000 in total last year, split roughly evenly between town and village governments.

“I was absolutely astounded they would make a resolution like that without first having discussed it with the town board,” Supervisor Regan said.

She said she got a phone call from Mayor Steven Yurgartis at 9:30 Monday night informing her of the village resolution.

“I think they thought they could take us by surprise and have the public see us as the bad guy if the program ends,” Regan said.

“Recreation is a staple in Potsdam. The citizens expect it. I hate to see it put in jeopardy.”

It was suggested that the town could just add to its general fund levy, since everyone in the town, including Potsdam village residents, is eligible to participate and all taxpayers in the town, the village included, would still be paying for it.

The village’s tax rate would go down and the town’s up, she said, making the village look good, “but the dollar amount wouldn’t be any different. All you’re doing is putting it on the town tax bill. No taxpayer will save any money. I don’t know if people understand that.”

But Regan said that “the legal issues make it difficult,” and it is not as simple a proposition as the village board has reportedly made it out to be, with the town simply taking over the program and the tax levy for it.

A complicating factor, Regan said, is the Village of Norwood, part of the Town of Potsdam, but which has its own recreation program for kids.

Regan said to keep the Potsdam program going, the town would have to take on the total $320,000 cost of the program, but if it were a general fund levy, the portion of the amount in taxes Norwood residents pay would have to go up while they would see no extra benefit.

“We’re checking with lawyers and the state Association of Towns, and they’re telling us we can’t make them pay. The only way to get them to pay” through the town’s general fund, she said, “is to get them to also turn their program over to the Town of Potsdam. I don’t think they want to do that. Even if it was legal, they wouldn’t think it was fair.”

Regan said it’s not like, for instance, the assessor’s salary, “which is paid by the entire town, and we all use the service, we all share it,” Norwood included.

“We can’t just tax those people for things they don’t benefit from,” Regan said.

“They have their own recreation program, which they fund through Village of Norwood taxes. And they use their old arena for boat storage, for a fee, so they get some money that way, plus proceeds from the Fourth of July process.

Resolving the problem might require setting up a new recreation district excluding Norwood, which nobody’s ever heard of, she said, and which would require a vote by residents, as did the Potsdam Library District formed a few years ago.

“There would be a special item on the tax bill for recreation, and the village and the town outside of Norwood would pay. The Association of Towns is researching it, but they’ve never heard of a recreation district. The closest thing is a park district, but they have to check with the state comptroller.”

Regan also noted that there are expenses at Sandstoner Arena that are mounting as the facility ages, something the village might have taken into consideration before their decision.

And there would be issues with pensions, health insurance, worker agreements, and more.

“We would ‘start fresh’ with all that, but we want to be humane, too,” Regan said.

She wonders if any new recreation district would be approved by voters.

“They voted down dissolution of the village. Now their board wants to turn over recreation to the town. What’s next? Turn over the police?

“It sounds to me a little like someone who murders his parents and then asks for mercy as an orphan.”