Town debates role in shared-services building

TUPPER LAKE – After some delay, construction on the shared-services building is again underway, but local leaders are still debating how to pay for it.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun approached the town board during Thursday night’s meeting to suggest that town taxpayers should split the cost of the fire portion of the building with the village.

Maroun said he doesn’t have exact figures, but he estimates the project would cost town taxpayers 35 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Maroun has previously stated that the increase would be about 50 cents per $1,000 for village residents.

The village’s increase would go toward the entire shared-services building and the town’s increase would only go toward the fire portion of the building. The estimates are based on a 4.5 percent interest rate on the $3.2 million bond and would go into effect in 2016.

Of concern to town board members is the way those numbers break down. Even though town residents would pay a lower amount per $1,000 of assessed property value, town taxpayers would collectively be paying 70 percent of the fire portion of the building.

Maroun explained that the percentages break down that way because property values in the town are higher than those in the village, therefore town taxpayers would assume a larger percentage of the cost.

Town Supervisor Patti Littlefield said she understood that, but town residents are still concerned about the 70-30 split.

“It’s a hard pill for the town taxpayers to swallow, that they’re going to be asked to pay for 70 percent of a mortgage bill that they had no say on,” Littlefield said. “That’s what the issue is. That’s what people are concerned about.”

The board members acknowledged that town residents were forbidden by state law from voting on the project because the village manages the police and fire departments, even though the town kicks in money for both: $25,000 annually to the village police department for emergency response and about $120,000 annually for the town-village fire contract.

“Now we’re paying right around $120,000, so there’s not a lot of incentive for the village to hold down the cost of operation if they know the town is going to assume 70 percent of that burden,” Quinn said. “For the town to pay 70 percent in capital construction for a building they had no say in, and I understand the law, but more importantly, for a building we’ll have zero ownership in, doesn’t strike me as fair to the taxpayers.”

Quinn added that he was concerned that adding 35 cents to property taxes would leave little wiggle room for staying under the tax cap in the 2016 budget. Councilwoman Kathleen Lefebvre agreed and suggested looking at another percentage breakdown.

Members of the board then questioned Maroun about the financial planning of the project.

“Why didn’t the village come to the town at the beginning of this?” Dechene asked. “The building is started, everything’s been started, and this is the first time you’ve been to our board to talk to us about cost. Don’t you think the town and the village should’ve gotten together and gotten our finances in line?”

Maroun said before Dechene was elected representatives of the town, including former town Supervisor Roger Amell, sat in on the village’s meetings regarding the project.

Lefebvre, who attended those meetings, said that was true but payment arrangements were never discussed.

“We discussed the cost of the building, but we didn’t discuss how much the town was going to pay,” Lefebvre said.

Dechene also challenged the cost of the project, saying construction projects always cost more than estimated. He also noted that the project is seven weeks behind schedule.

Maroun said that was because an engineer with Architectural and Design Associates made a mistake and ordered the wrong kind of steel. He said that would not add money to the cost of the project.

Maroun also acknowledged that the project is behind schedule and said, if possible, work would continue through winter.

“They’ll start at the civic center side of the building, since that’s where the police station will be, and work their way over,” Maroun said. “The police station has more electrical stuff, so that’s why they’ll do that first.”

Maroun reminded the board that some money has been saved on the cost of the project. As an example he said $80,000 was included for the excavation portion of the project, but county workers did that for nothing.

“I thought we were saving money, but what it did do was create anxiety in people,” Maroun said. “You see it every day; nothing’s happening. It’s discouraging, and it’s discouraging to me.”

Maroun told the board there are three options: The town and village could work together as a community, the village could turn the fire department over to a fire district, or the town could contract with another fire department.

“If you look at this as the whole community, you wouldn’t be thinking about the 70-30,” Maroun said. “This is a community project. I can’t help it that the state law says I couldn’t let the town vote on the proposition.”

But the board members were still thinking about percentages. Lefebvre said everyone agrees that a new facility is needed, and Littlefield said the board would need time to discuss its options.

“It’s not our department and it’s not our facility,” Littlefield said. “It has to be negotiated, and I think that should have been done beforehand.”

The project was originally estimated to cost $4.5 million, $3.2 million of which would be covered by town and village taxpayers. The remaining $1.3 million was supposed to come from federal grants Hueber-Breuer construction manager Sean Foran said he’d secure.

In April, it looked like the project wasn’t going to happen after Foran announced that he hadn’t found grants to fund it. A last-minute Economic Development Corporation grant for $500,000 was approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, which allowed the project to begin.

The village board has since trimmed the total cost of the project to an estimated $3.78 million. Maroun has assured the public that the village board would continue seeking grants and ways to lower costs. He kept that promise on Friday, when he asked U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer for help securing grant money for the project during Schumer’s visit to the area.