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Massena board approves budget with double digit percent tax hike

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MASSENA — The Town Council has approved a 2013 budget that will raise taxes by 29 percent for village residents and 21 percent for town residents outside the village.

“It’s the best we can do,” Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said. “This is a difficult budget for us.”

Tax rates will climb from $3.46 per $1,000 of assessed value to $4.45 for village residents and from $4.41 per $1,000 to $5.34 for town residents outside the village.

That means a village taxpayer with property assessed at $90,000 will see the January tax bill go up by $89.10 from last year. A taxpayer with that same assessment outside the village will see an $83.70 increase.

The adoption of the budget this week was a mere formality after the Town Council had spent the past several weeks in work sessions reviewing and revising a spending plan drafted by Mr. Gray.

Members of the council said they would pay $79,000 to the village to contract for fire protection services for property outside the village limits, the same allocation as the current year. Mr. Gray acknowledged he had not negotiated the contract with village officials.

Councilman Albert N. Nicola said village officials must be aware of the town’s fiscal problems and recognize that the town would resume purchasing additional equipment for the Fire Department if it receives tribal compact money in the coming year.

“It’s simply, we don’t have the money,” Councilman Charles A. Raiti said. “They are going to have to share the pain.”

The town will collect $522,705 more in property tax revenue than in 2012.

Mr. Gray’s proposal had included increasing the property tax levy by more than $725,000 and cutting funding to most outside agencies, including the Massena Humane Society, Meals on Wheels and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce.

The council lowered the proposed increase in several ways. It cut funding for the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena to $30,000 instead of the $60,000 proposed. The Massena Public Library’s budget will be cut by $65,000 on top of the $13,000 cut that Mr. Gray had proposed.

Most “discretionary spending,” including funding to outside agencies, will be cut by 10 percent more than under Mr. Gray’s draft, which already had included at least a 10 percent reduction for the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.

In addition, the council will draw more from the town’s fund balance to offset the tax increase. As a result, the balance is expected to drop from a forecast of $1,212,774 at the end of 2012 to $872,774 by the end of next year.

Officials said it was difficult to cut more than that because most other budget items are personnel expenses. Mr. Raiti said last month that he did not want to furlough staff, but that it eventually could come to that.

Town officials have said they expect the 2014 budget to be as difficult, if not worse.

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