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Gray’s Massena proposal includes tax increase, cuts

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MASSENA — Supervisor Joseph D. Gray is proposing what he calls a “painful” 2013 town spending plan, which includes double-digit tax rate increases and spending cuts to outside agencies.

The $7,007,686 plan raises the property tax levy by $725,272, to $2,802,623. The proposed tax rate increase for those inside the village is $1.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from $3.46 to $4.79, a 38.4 percent hike. For those outside the village, there is a proposed $1.32 increase, from $4.41 to $5.73, a 30 percent climb from the 2012 rate.

That means a property owner in the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $119.70 more in town taxes than in 2012, while one outside the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $118.80 more.

Several factors led to the proposed tax increase, Mr. Gray said. The 2013 budget reflects no revenue from casino gaming compact funds, causing a heavier reliance on property taxes. Massena had received anywhere from $182,819 to $555,613 in gaming compact revenues from 2007 to 2010. The town ran out of that money in 2012 because of an ongoing dispute between the state and the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Mr. Gray’s proposal also cuts down on the amount of unallocated fund balance used to offset a property tax increase. The town is expected to use more than $600,000 of its largest source of unallocated fund balance this year, dropping the amount available to an estimated $779,347 at the end of the year, compared with $1,391,633 at the start.

The state recommends municipalities retain enough unallocated fund balance to cover at least two months of operating expenses, which in Massena’s case is approximately $700,000, according to the town’s bookkeeper, Nancy A. Fregoe. Because of that, Mr. Gray proposed using $50,000 of the $779,347, a fraction of the amount used in 2012.

“We can’t deplete every fund balance we have,” Mr. Gray said. “That would be irresponsible.”

Mr. Gray said nearly all town-funded agencies will see spending cuts, with the exception of the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena. The Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce, for example, would see its funding reduced to $9,000 from $15,000 this year, while Massena Meals on Wheels would see a 10 percent cut, from $10,000 to $9,000.

“It’s very painful,” Mr. Gray said. “There will be impacts on outside agencies. There will be impacts on town operations. There will be impacts on personnel.”

The proposal includes no layoffs, but Mr. Gray said he would like to discuss with fellow board members leaving a couple of vacant positions unfilled. He declined to mention what those positions were until he could meet with the board Wednesday.

“The only way to save dramatic amounts of money is to cut jobs,” Mr. Gray said. “I think the town’s operations are pretty lean as it is.”

The town recently agreed to double the amount provided to the BDC, from $30,000 in 2012 to $60,000 in 2013. BDC officials previously said they would have run out of their reserves by 2013 if the organization did not receive a funding increase; Mr. Gray said the extra funding could create a return on investment.

Mr. Gray said most other expenses remained level or were cut from last year, but mandated and escalating retirement and health care costs are causing increases.

“The increases that are in there are ones that are beyond our control,” he said.

The town’s assessed valuation will climb from $541,179,052 to $543,532,795. The total assessed value outside the village declined from $213,600,721 to $212,255,293, but inside it rose from $327,578,331 to $331,277,502, leading to an overall townwide increase.

The council will hold a series of October budget workshops to amend Mr. Gray’s proposal and likely will finalize a spending plan in several weeks.

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