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Potsdam trustees argue about recreation program behind closed doors

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POTSDAM — The village board is divided on the future of the troubled recreation program, and trustees argued Monday night whether to keep or privatize it.

More than 25 residents filled the room during the public portion of the meeting, many of them asking the village to continue funding recreation. The trustees agreed not to take any action on the requests, or this year’s budget, until they could all be present. Trustee Ruth F. Garner was unable to attend.

After the public meeting, the board voted to go into executive session. From the hallway outside the closed room, the raised voices of Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis and Trustee Stephen J. Warr could be heard arguing over the future of the program.

Mr. Yurgartis said portions of the winter recreation program should be privatized, a plan he had not mentioned during the public portion of the meeting, while Mr. Warr reaffirmed his publicly stated opinion that the town and village should continue splitting the cost of the program evenly as they long have done.

When asked afterward about why his privatization suggestion was not made publicly, Mr. Yurgartis said the closed-door meeting was held to discuss the recreation contract agreement between the village and town.

Contract discussions are not a valid reason to go into executive session, according to New York state open-meetings law, although the “financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation” is legitimate reason to call such a meeting.

The village is left with little time to reach a decision. The 2014-15 budget cannot be finalized until the future of the recreation program is determined, and it must be finished by April 30.

The village is expected to hold a special public meeting in the days to come to make a final decision.

This fiscal year, the village paid about $190,000 toward a total recreation budget of about $380,000. Last year the trustees voted to drop support by the end of 2014, in hopes the town would pick up the entire program. Creation of a special taxing district to raise revenue for the program was rejected in a town referendum this month, leaving both municipalities uncertain of how to proceed.

According to Mr. Yurgartis, the winter recreation program costs about $240,000 and is used by only about 300 children a year, costing $800 per child.

Mr. Warr argued the recreation program is an important piece of the village’s quality of life. He proposed a resolution to continue splitting the cost with the town.

“There’s all sorts of things that make a community,” he said.

The public portion of the meeting was filled with people, many of whom spoke in favor of keeping the program in some form, including village resident Susan Kelly, who volunteered to help maintain the program.

“If children don’t have somewhere to go or something to do in the summer, there’s going to be problems,” she said.

Recreation Director Timothy W. Carey agreed. “We shut the doors to that arena, and there is a lot of kids going to be out on the streets in the winter,” he said.

Others expressed dissatisfaction with the town vote on the new taxing district, which was open only to property owners because of a ruling from the state comptroller’s office. This disenfranchised renters, who make up a large proportion of village residents, they said.

“If it was going to be village versus town it was knee-capped from the beginning,” said village resident Rachel Wallace.

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