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Massena will face tough choices on next budget

JOHNSON NEWSPAPERS
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MASSENA — The next mayor will face a deteriorating financial picture when he drafts his first balanced-budget proposal to the village Board of Trustees.


The village likely is facing a $500,000 to $700,000 deficit for 2011, Village Administrator Everett E. Basford said. About 92 percent of the village's budget is related to employee salaries and benefits, according to Mayor Randy G. DeLosh, which makes it difficult to make any cuts without reducing services or personnel. The village must submit an approved budget to the state by May 1.


Rising health care and retirement costs are the major culprits in 2011's gloomy outlook. Health care expenses could increase by about 11 percent to 15 percent, Mr. Basford said, and the village's contribution to the state retirement fund could go up by about $260,000.


Democratic mayoral candidate and village Trustee Joseph A. Macaulay said many taxpayers want him and the next village board to hold the line on taxes and maintain the current level of services. Doing both will be very difficult.


"There's no question about it," Mr. Macaulay said. "You can't have it both ways."


If the village board were to close a $700,000 gap with only a tax increase, it would take an approximate rate increase of $2 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or a $200 increase for a property owner whose house is valued at $100,000, Mr. Macaulay said. The current village tax rates are $12.94 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for property owners within the town of Massena and $14.89 per $1,000 for property owners within the town of Louisville. The village raised $4,684,489 in property taxes for the current budget.


"That's unacceptable, no question," Mr. Macaulay said. "Nobody in their right mind is going to put $2 per $1,000 (increase) in front of the taxpayers."


Republican candidate James F. Hidy said he will use his business expertise to make cuts in a proposed budget as a CEO would.


"It's just like any private sector or any corporation. To run, they have to streamline and utilize their employees more effectively and still provide for the same goods and services. People have to realize Massena is a business," he said.


But while layoffs are often a staple of a company in tough times, they are a last resort for Mr. Hidy.


"Economics is tough for everybody right now, and the last thing you want to do is to be scaring people," he said. "The easy thing to do is cut, cut, cut. ... The hard thing to do is work for the people. And I opt to work for the people."


Mr. Macaulay said he also wants to sit down with each department head to find the best ways to cut costs.


"The board and the employees are a team," Mr. Macaulay said. "The old saying goes, 'In a team there is no letter I.'"


Mr. Macaulay said he did not want the size of village government to grow in tough times. Mr. Hidy said three weeks ago he hoped village jobs could be added if the village headed into easier financial times.


Mr. Macaulay called the proposition "crazy."


"In this day and age, how could you say that?" Mr. Macaulay asked. "We certainly cannot even consider adding to our employee list."


Over the next four years, Mr. Hidy said, he will bring more industry to provide a larger tax base and avoid having to raise taxes. For next year, he would look into working with each department to cut costs before laying anyone off or raising taxes.


The mayoral race will be the only contested election in Massena.


Patricia K. "Trish" Wilson and Timothy J. Ahlfeld are running unopposed for both open village trustee seats. The new mayor will be sworn in at the village board's first meeting in December.

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