Massena won't dissolve village, but may combine highway garages
Wednesday, December 11, 2019 - 12:57 pm

BY ANDY GARDNER
North Country This Week

MASSENA -- The final presentation of a local government consolidation study recommends combining the town and village highway garages, and having them both managed by one administrator.

It also suggests the village and town work together to have one person working as an administrator for all of their departments, and merging the town and village courts.

The report says dissolving the village probably won't save money, mostly due to the Massena Police Department.

"Are there cost savings to be had from dissolving the village? We immediately run into a challenge. Police services in the state of New York can only be provided if it's for every resident of the town," Project Director Kent Gardner from management consultants CGR in Rochester told a joint session of the village and town boards. "It could actually turn into a cost increase ... I can't imagine the village of Massena deciding to do without police services."

The report, which was authored with input from a panel of seven local people, suggests having the town Highway Department and Village Department of Public Works operate from a single garage, and eventually managed by one chief. It also suggests combining the village and town courts, mostly to avoid public confusion since they both operate out of the same office and hold their sessions in the same courtroom.

Gardner praised the town and village for putting both of their administrative offices in the same town hall, but the report suggested they find an administrator to oversee the departments of both.

"I believe sharing an administrative facility gets you part way to maximum cost efficiency," Gardner said. "A professional administrator would be able to find some efficiencies, we believe, but it's not going to turn into a tremendous amount of money."

Village Trustee Francis Carvel said he believes politics would obstruct a village/town administrator from being effective.

"I'd like to see that guy, because he's gonna have to be a child of God ... dancing to two drummers. He's gonna be lucky if he's got two Democrat drummers or two Republican drummers," Carvel said.

Gardner said the position should be apolitical.

"It's an apolitical administrator ... intentionally non-partisan," he said. "There's not a Republican way to plow roads, not a Democratic way to fix sewers."

Town Supervisor Steve O'Shaughnessy said he thinks that option may be worth exploring further.

"I really see a need there, that we really need somebody who can run the day-to-day operation," he said, adding that the department heads are mostly "self-directed."

When questioned by Tim Ahlfeld, a member of the study committee and former village trustee, village and town leaders both said they would be OK with sharing a highway facility.

"Would you be in favor of a co-location facility?" Ahlfeld asked.

"Absolutely," village Mayor Tim Currier and Deputy Mayor Matt Lebire said in unison.

"Who wouldn't be? As long as there was savings, I would not be in favor of doing it just to do it. If we're not going to save taxpayers' money, we have the property, we have the blueprints," O'Shaughnessy said. "If we can save money ... then yes. How could you say no?"

Currier noted that since the village and Massena Central School District now share some facilities, they should be involved.

"It creates other enticements to partner with the district, capital projects and other things," the mayor said.

"Our recommendation is - in the community of Massena, you need one building,” Ahlfeld said. "Make no mistake. You don't need two garages.”

The report also suggested looking at having both the Highway Department and DPW under direction of one manager after their current heads retire. The current Highway Department superintendent is Frank Diagostino. The DPW superintendent is Hassan Fayad.

Gardner suggested the departments remain separate, with a worker in each functioning as a deputy that answers to the one chief.

Carvel was critical of the idea.

"One person now to be above both the highway superintendent and DPW superintendent ... now you've got one more guy sitting on top. We don't need somebody else up here. We need somebody else down here,” he said, referring to lay laborers. "When the summer time comes, there's not enough help."

"What I'm suggesting is you have two senior administrators ... when those two retire, you look for one individual who would be at that skill level,” Gardner replied. "Someone probably on the two staffs right now would play a role that would serve as a deputy role. It's not a new position, it would be somebody already on staff ... I'm not suggesting creating new positions at all."

O’Shaughnessy said some of the sitting lawmakers probably don’t want to get away from old routines.

"I think there is a reluctance on the boards to change anything … We know how this works, we know what Frank does,” he said. "There's the airport, and all these things we think about

"There's concern if it changes, it's going to cost the town outside the village more.”

That is a legitimate concern, given that earlier in the meeting Gardner said "town outside taxpayers would probably end up bearing most of the cost of that new facility."

Currier said he was frustrated by the night’s discussion among the two boards.

"Some of us are unwilling to look at this low hanging fruit that's left. It's unreasonable to look at those three options and not say 'there's cost savings to be had,’” he said. “There’s too much reluctance by too many people sitting at this table, in my view.

"If we can find savings, we should do that, as long as it doesn't interrupt the services we can provide."

"This study was the last straw for me. It’s not at all what I thought it would be and not exactly what was needed,” Lebire said. "Is there gonna be movement if it appears to be beneficial?

"We need to get going and ... get down to the heart of the matter."