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Potsdam budget vote delayed over recreation concerns

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POTSDAM — The village has tabled its vote on the 2013-14 budget in response to a call to delay cuts to recreation. The boardroom was packed at Monday’s meeting, and many voiced concerns about the future of the program.

Under a resolution passed last month, the village agreed to cut funding to the recreation program by the end of 2013. The village has long split the cost of recreation with the town, and village leaders have urged town board members to take up the cost.

This creates a legal dilemma for the town. The village of Norwood has its own recreation program, and according to Supervisor Marie C. Regan it would be illegal to charge Norwood residents for a program that they do not use.

However, the town may be able to create a recreation improvement district, which would tax residents of the village of Potsdam and the town outside without taxing Norwood residents.

Such a move will take time, Mrs. Regan said, and will require a townwide referendum. She asked village trustees to rescind its resolution and agree to continue funding recreation for another year, until the start of 2015, while the town explores its options.

“What we want is simply more time to make sure we can do this correctly,” she said.

If the year ends and a solution is not in place, the results could be devastating for area children, she said.

“We don’t want our hockey players and our figure skaters to, in the middle of a season, have the arena locked up,” she said.

Many members of the public spoke in favor of the Recreation Department. Everyone agreed it should be kept open, although opinions differed on how to do so.

Michelle Garrow has worked as a lifeguard with the program since the early 1990s, and said the program provides a necessary place for kids to go.

“They come rain or shine. They know that someone is there to look out for them,” she said, defending the request for the extension.

Some village residents supported the request, but others say the taxes they pay are unfairly high compared with the much lower taxes paid by town residents.

“Yes, support recreation, but not out of the village budget,” said George Arnold.

Several brought up the frequent tax disputes between the village and town, including town highway taxes that have long been protested by some villages. Former Administrator Robert R. Burns said these disputes will continue until the town and village can sit down and work out their tax issues as a whole, rather than one fight at a time.

“We are all members of the same community,” he said. “Some of these arguments have been going on for 25 years.”

Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis said the resolution was made because of a lack of cooperation from the town.

“We have asked for their cooperation for two years, and there was no cooperation,” he said. “I was not proud of having to take that action. It was a hard action to take. But it seemed the only way to spur action.”

The board had planned to vote on the budget Monday night, but the vote was tabled to allow further discussion of whether to fund recreation.

Trustees Ronald Tischler and Stephen J. Warr said they would support the extension. Mr. Yurgartis and trustee Eleanor F. Hopke said they would consider it, but they wanted to meet with town leaders first to see if the extra time was truly needed.

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