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Time for Philadelphia village taxpayers to say ‘whoa’


The U.S. Census Bureau says there at 1,291 people living in the village of Philadelphia as of 2012.

That makes it fairly small, by any measure. And, according to the Census, it isn’t rich: the median income of $43,487 is only 78.7 percent of the statewide median of $55,246.

And the downtown area of Philadelphia is — and I’m being gentle here — not the mercantile heartbeat of the northern part of Jefferson County. There are a couple of pizza shops and some convenience stores and a few other things on Route 11, but if a Philadelphian wants to spend any money, it will be a lot easier to do it in, say, Watertown.

Into this sleepy milieu pops a plan by the village Board of Trustees to build a $1.25 million village hall. Or at least, to borrow that much for a new village hall. That debt will equal $968.24 for every resident of the village. For a family of four, it would be the equivalent of buying a used car. Except it won’t get that family of four anywhere they can buy groceries, see a doctor or catch a movie.

The first time I tried to visit downtown Philadelphia, I turned off Route 11 onto Sand Street and ended up out in some lovely, remote countryside on Garden of Eden Road. So I backtracked and finally found North Main Street and I got to see what I was looking for. Which, and I don’t say this in a pejorative sense, wasn’t much. I remember saying to my wife, “well, it’s got more commercial property than Mannsville.” That’s still true today.

But one thing Mannsville doesn’t have is a million-dollar village hall. In fact, there aren’t many million-dollar village halls anywhere in the north country — at least, not in villages the size of Philadelphia.

Just outside of the village, Indian River Central School has one of the finest public facilities in Jefferson County, with a nearly professional level theater and great meeting rooms and lots of neat stuff. I point this out because, with that so close to the village, should the Board of Trustees actually have to take up any business that would draw, say, the entire population of the village, it could be accommodated at the school.

Your average village board meeting, on the other hand, could probably be held in a large utility closet.

So, one would do well to muse, why would this village need THAT village hall?

Apparently, no one in Philadelphia village government has heard that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is bending over backwards to reduce the size and number of local governments across the state. And they are likewise apparently unaware that the governor’s budget proposal offers tax incentives for municipalities that engage in shared or consolidated services, and tax penalties for those who ignore such measures.

In Philadelphia, if there is indeed a need for a new village hall, it would seem that this might be an opportune time to explore a consolidation with the town of Philadelphia. Trustees have already talked about sharing Department of Public Works space with the town Highway Department. Why not all town and village space?

The first proposal considered by the village board was for a magnificent $2 million building. That apparently was too much. So, it’s fair to ask, why is $1.25 million also not too much?

This is what Times staff writer Gordon Block reported from a recent village meeting: “It’s exciting in that we’re seeing some development in the village,” Mayor Matthew J. Montroy said. “Hopefully that ball will keep rolling.”

Somebody really should tell Mayor Montroy that a municipal building is not development. A Walmart is development. A housing project is development. Even a new gas station is development. A new village hall is just a great excuse to meet in a brand new meeting hall every month. So let’s say that in the next 30 years there are 1,000 village meetings there, between the trustees and the planning board and so forth, and let’s say that the interest rate is 3 percent, meaning that in 30 years the village will pay about $3.7 million for the building. That means the cost to the village for each meeting is $3,700.

Those numbers are simplistic only because it doesn’t account for the use by the village clerk and police and so forth. But it does serve to point out that for a village the size of Philadelphia, this is a truly expensive proposal. It’s the kind of proposal that needs some creative people to find cheaper alternatives. It’s the kind of proposal that buries taxpayers in debt and makes them think twice about staying in the village.

And it’s the kind of proposal that should be seriously challenged by taxpayers who have long ago reached their limit.

Perry White is the city editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Reach him at

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