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Employee benefits prove sticking point in Potsdam recreation talks

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POTSDAM — Town and village officials agree on most of the necessary steps before the town can take full control of the recreation program, but one sticking point is the cost of benefits for current and retired employees.

The Town Council and village Board of Trustees met in a joint session Monday night to discuss the issue. No agreement was reached on health benefits for the two retired and three full-time recreation employees, especially Recreation Director Timothy W. Carey.

Until the town takes over, costs for the recreation program are split evenly between both municipalities. However, full-time workers are technically employed by the village, which offers a larger health benefits package than the town.

If the town takes over, all employees will be laid off and will have the opportunity to be rehired under a town contract.

“This is a deal-breaker unless we can agree on this,” town Supervisor Marie C. Regan said.

Most village board members agreed the village could continue to pay the benefits for retired employees.

“I think we can make this exchange in the interest of cooperation,” village Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis said.

Village Trustee Ruth F. Garner disagreed with the proposal.

“This sounds like government, to me, taking a simple problem and making it as complicated as it can be,” she said. “Why should the village pay it? Why can’t it just be clear, and have everyone pay their fair share?”

Mr. Carey’s employment is a more complicated case. He has been a village employee for 25 years, and the boards argued about which municipality would be responsible for his benefits should he choose to retire.

The village board went into executive session to discuss his employment specifically. Two Town Council members were invited into the executive session. Mr. Carey was at the meeting, but was not invited to the executive session. He declined to comment.

Other points were less controversial. Village trustees agreed to sign over all recreation properties, facilities and equipment to the town. They also agreed to contribute 50 percent of the costs to procure grants for the program for the next five years, instead of the 10 years initially requested.

None of the agreements reached Monday is binding. Both municipalities must decide how to proceed and draft a formal resolution outlining the plan.

If at least 140 residents of the proposed recreation district sign a petition opposing it, the resolution will have to be put to a public vote. The district includes the entire town of Potsdam except the village of Norwood.

Officials hope to finish the process before November, but if not, a special election may have to be held later.

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