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Residents voice budget concerns at public hearing

FREDONIA – Several residents attended the public hearing on Fredonia Mayor Steve Keefe’s tentative budget. The mayor was absent for the session Monday night, which was conducted by the board of trustees.

The mayor unveiled the spending plan one week ago and proposed a 96-cent tax increase and additional charges for water and sewer usage. Residents complained that the escalating costs were becoming more difficult for them to pay. One resident reminded the trustees that water and sewer rates were increased last year when the announcement that Carriage House, a food processing plant owned by Con Agra, would close. One of the village’s major employers, more than 400 people will have been displaced from the factory by this summer when it is fully shut down.

Some residents asked if there would be another public hearing before the final budget is adopted. Trustee Joe Cerrie said that public comments on the budget are welcome at any session. He said the trustees will take all comments into consideration before adopting the final spending plan.

Trustee Susan McKay said that the residents could expect several changes in the final version as compared to the mayor’s proposal. The trustees have been meeting with department heads and asking for lists of their purchase priorities for 2015-16. Six full-time positions were cut from the budget last year. Potential cuts discussed this year include three positions in the fire department, as proposed by the mayor, and one full-time job in the police department.

A letter from Chautauqua County District Attorney David W. Foley was read by one police officer and given to all the trustees. Foley supports the hiring of a full-time police officer to replace a retired officer and said that the Fredonia area has seen an increase in more serious and violent crimes in the last year.

Two part-time patrolmen were approved for hire in the police department at the regular meeting. Brian Fox of Falconer and Joshua Cybart of Fredonia will begin training this week.

The budget process will continue through April when a final version must be adopted by the trustees.

They also are considering the elimination of the mayor’s position or elimination of one trustee and allowing the mayor a vote on the village board. Both matters would require a public referendum and change in the village charter.