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Answers scarce in Potsam recreation discussion

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POTSDAM — When the Town Council met with the public Tuesday to discuss the future of the troubled recreation program, everyone who spoke up at the meeting agreed they wanted to keep the recreation program alive somehow, but so far there are no clear answers on how to proceed.

Village trustees voted last week to cut financial support to the program at the end of 2013. The town and village have long shared the cost of the recreation program, and now town board members are looking for ways to keep it going.

The main difficulty lies with the village of Norwood. The village has its own recreation program and contracts with the town of Norfolk to provide some services it cannot provide itself, like use of an ice rink.

Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan said it would be unethical and possibly illegal to make Norwood residents pay for a program they don’t use, but the way the budget is organized leaves the town with few other options.

“This came as a surprise to me,” said Norwood Mayor James H. McFadden.

He said he hopes the town will not tax Norwood for the cost of recreation, but no matter what happens Norwood residents will not see a tax increase.

“We’re not going to let the recreation issue raise taxes for the village of Norwood,” he said.

Potsdam village resident Thomas L. French said he does not see why Norwood residents should be exempt from recreation taxes paid by other town residents.

“Most of the people who live in the village of Norwood live in the town of Potsdam,” he said.

Mrs. Regan said incorporating Norwood’s recreation program into Potsdam’s would be difficult, especially for Norwood children who are used to practicing sports like hockey with their friends from Norwood-Norfolk Central School. Board member Rosemaria Rivezzi said it was a difficult situation, but she hoped an agreement could be reached with Norwood that would not jeopardize the townwide program.

Potsdam Recreation Director Timothy W. Carey said he was just as surprised by the decision as everyone else.

“I can not imagine this community not having a program for kids,” he said.

Mr. Carey has worked in the program for 25 years. He is one of three full-time employees. All recreation employees are paid by the village, and Mr. Carey said he doesn’t know how things will work once the year ends and the village cuts support. Time is of the essence, he said, because schools and hockey clubs plan their use of Pine Street Arena months in advance. The Potsdam School District puts in more than 100 hours of ice time every season.

“We really need to try to come to some kind of resolution where we know we’re going to have a full season next year,” he said.

The town looked into the possibility of creating a special taxing district for recreation, but Mrs. Regan said she has been unable to find any precedent of it being done before. The state has been pressuring municipalities to streamline, not add additional layers of bureaucracy, and would probably not approve a new district, she said.

“The town budget and the categories within it are dictated by the state. There is no ‘ands ifs or buts’ about how it’s made up,” she said.

Even if a new district is approved by the state, it would needed to be voted on in a town wide referendum.

Board members said they did not approve of the village’s surprise vote, which was held without informing them.

“Doing it this way sends the message that either the village board does not understand the complexity involved because of Norwood, or that the recreation program is of little value to the village board,” Ms. Rivezzi said.

Ms. Rivezzi and Mrs. Regan both said that although the way the issue came up was frustrating, the program could probably be better run by a single entity.

“When I read the resolution there was one thing I agreed with. Mr. Yurgartis said we could probably run the program better. I think he’s probably right,” Mrs. Regan said.

Now that a public meeting has been held, the town board will schedule a meeting with village trustees to figure out the full implications of the resolution.

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