The village of Tupper Lake presented its budget during a public hearing Wednesday afternoon and it featured a potential tax rate increase of nearly 9 percent.
That's because of an unusual delay from the town in signing a contract to pay for fire department services it receives from the village.
Town officials said they want to renegotiate their contract with the village. They explained during a board meeting Monday that they want a flat fee rather than a rate based on property assessments. The town is also dragging its feet on paying its share of a recent equipment purchase and helping to fund a village plan to build a new fire hall.
Town officials did not offer any specifics about how they would like the new rate to be calculated.
The village of Tupper Lake must approve its final budget in just two weeks. If it doesn't have a contract from the town by then, it will have to absorb the total cost of the fire department. This would add an extra $130,000 to the village's tax levy and increase its tax rate from 1.7 percent to 8.8 percent.
It would also leave the town without a contract for fire and rescue services.
During a village budget hearing Wednesday, Mayor Mickey Desmarais called the town's behavior "stupid."
"It's really a no-brainer," Desmarais said. "The amount a town resident pays [in taxes for the fire department] is less then a night out for dinner."
Desmarais also blasted town officials for hesitating to help pay for protective clothing and equipment for the department's volunteers.
"They can't fight a fire in their pajamas," Desmarais said, adding that the bills the town is getting are essential to the department's operation and are not up for negotiation.
One member of the public complained that the town has waited "until the eleventh hour" to try to renegotiate its contract.
"The town has given no consideration for village residents, which are also town residents," said village resident Marvin Madore.
Residents of both the town and village said town officials should have at least attended the budget meeting to discuss the issue and explain their position to the public.
Town officials have complained that they are paying almost 70 percent of the cost for the village's fire department, or about $140,000. That amount is determined by an equalization of the assessed property values in the town, but officials have not explained how they think a new rate should be calculated.
Desmarais said the current system is fair, explaining that residents in the village and the town pay the same amount, about 43 cents per thousand of assessed value.
He also said the tax rate dropped by 10 percent last year thanks to cost-saving efforts.
"You would think [town officials] would be happy to pay it," Desmarais said, noting that he has received no complaints from town residents over taxes for the fire department.
Amell and other town board members said during their Monday board meeting that they'd like to run their own fire department.
Desmarais agreed, saying that "if every time the town gets a bill they're going to cry, maybe it's time they do get there own fire department."
The town and the village plan to meet at 5 p.m. Monday to try and hash out an agreement.