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Village officials consider budget for police, code enforcement

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MASSENA - The mayor’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes small reductions in funding to the village’s police department and code enforcement office.

After a budget session Thursday evening, Mayor James F. Hidy said he’d included small reductions in the village’s funding to those two entities in his proposed budget, which has to be approved by the village Board of Trustees by May 1.

Mr. Hidy declined to mention how much he’d proposed to fund those entities in his tentative budget, but said it would be comparable to the figures for the current fiscal year.

Last year, the village board voted to allocate $2,025,715 for police in 2012-13.

Mr. Hidy also said the reductions in spending on code enforcement would be primarily due to the resignation of Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe in January, and the allocation of his duties to Massena firefighters trained in code enforcement. Mr. Fregoe’s post cost $28,476.24, and Mr. Hidy said the village neither pays its firefighters more nor staffs them for additional hours to handle the code enforcement duties once handled by Mr. Fregoe.

Trustees raised two issues related to contracting to provide for police and code enforcement service to the town, which might affect the total funding that those entities receive in the next fiscal year.

The amount the village allocates may hinge largely on how the town elects to proceed with code enforcement.

Earlier this year, Mr. Hidy announced the village would no longer provide code enforcement to the town outside the village, in the interest of saving money and keeping firefighters closer to the village in the event of an emergency.

In an email to town officials, Mr. Hidy wrote that the village would continue to provide code enforcement service outside the village “for a short period of time” until the town council could implement an alternative for code enforcement.

Since then, town officials have considered applications for a part-time code enforcement officer, and have also discussed the possibility of contracting with the village for the services of Code Enforcement Secretary Avis Hazelton.

However, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said town officials are also considering the possibility of continuing joint-funding for code enforcement in the town and village. “There has been some discussion on the town and village sharing the office for code enforcement duties, and I hope to get that resolved very soon,” Mr. Gray said. “There are a couple different forms (that it could be done, including) we jointly hire a new code enforcement officer, or we could contract for use of their firefighters trained in code enforcement.”

Mr. Gray said town officials had not ruled out the possibility of hiring its own code enforcement officer, but were considering all their options in order to provide code enforcement in the best way. “We’re trying to find a cooperative relationship for being most cost-effective for our taxpayers and for effectively providing code enforcement for contractors to make sure the work is done safely,” Mr. Gray said. “We have to make sure - however we provide service - that people can get building inspections done in a timely manner.”

Mr. Gray pointed out that developers and contractors reach certain “milestones” in a construction project that call for an inspection by a code enforcement officer, and if one is not available, the work may be delayed, which may result in lost money for the contractor.

Mr. Hidy acknowledged that he and town officials were in discussions over continuing to jointly fund code enforcement, noting it may be in the best interest of both the town and village to have a full-time code enforcement officer to provide inspections for large construction projects in the town outside the village.

“That’s still in the discussion phase. We’re anticipating the possibility of major projects (in the town outside the village) where it’d be beneficial to have a full-time code enforcement officer,” Mr. Hidy said.

At least two firefighters trained in code enforcement are on staff at any given time, according to Fire Department Foreman and career firefighter Ken McGowan. However, the firefighters will naturally not be available for inspections if there is an emergency they need to respond to.

The village’s funding to its police department may be affected by payments the town makes to the village, in exchange for the village providing a police officer presence at Massena International Airport for all flight boardings. Mr. Hidy said the town owes the village $17,000 in these contractual payments.

Mr. Gray said the town is behind on its contractual payments to the village because it has not received reimbursements from the federal government to cover those security costs. “The federal government owes the town, and because the federal government hasn’t paid us, we haven’t paid the village,” Mr. Gray said.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Transportation Security Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, required that a law enforcement officer be present while commercial passengers are screened at airports.

To help smaller airports meet the requirement, the Law Enforcement Officer Reimbursement program was created, providing grants based on the number of flights and passengers moving through airports. This year, the TSA changed the way it calculates the grants, reducing both the estimated number of hours an officer will need to work and the amount each officer will be paid.

According to town bookkeeper Nancy Fregoe, the last check the town received from the TSA represents a 64 percent reduction in reimbursement payments since August 2010. In November the town received a TSA reimbursement check for the months of February through July 2012 reimbursing the town $1,996.52 for the $5,556.32 in officers’ wages.

She said the town had received $56,652 for the security work in 2010, but those numbers dropped to $18,988 for payment for the period running from October 2010 to September 2011.

Mr. Hidy feels the town has a responsibility to village tax-payers to pay for the police officer’s airport presence regardless of whether they’re reimbursed by the federal government. “We can’t (put those costs) on the village because it’s a town entity. Someone’s got to make up the difference.”

Trustee Timothy J. Ahlfeld asked why state police couldn’t provide the mandated police presence at the airport during flight boardings, and suggested the New York State Division of State Police had enough funding to cover that service.

Police Chief Timmy J. Currier responded that the state doesn’t “want anything to do with” providing or paying for a security presence at airports.

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