TUPPER LAKE - After public outcry at the town's budget hearing Thursday afternoon, the town board has begun the process to reinstate a raise for the town's only employee, besides the board, who wasn't set to get one.
Three town board members - Kathy Lefebvre, David Tomberlin and Patti Littlefield - said they didn't know town Supervisor Roger Amell took a 2 percent raise out of the budget for town Highway Superintendent Bill Dechene, and they weren't in favor of it.
Dechene beat town Supervisor Roger Amell almost 2-to-1 in an election for his position in 2010, and he faced a similar issue with his salary directly after that election.
Tupper Laker Randy Bedore calls for town Supervisor Roger Amell to step down. Bedore called some budget decisions Amell made unethical at a hearing on the town budget Thursday afternoon.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
Littlefield said this year, Dechene's raise was included in the budget through all the various drafts she saw; then it was gone when public notice appeared in the newspaper for the proposed salaries and budget hearing.
"It's my intention to hopefully get some action taken so we can fix the error that was made - that I feel was made on this," Littlefield said. "As far as this board member's concerned, I support Billy, and I support the salary that was put in the tentative budget on his behalf."
Amell argued with her, saying that it wasn't in the version of the budget that was the official tentative budget, and they went back and forth on which version of the budget it was in.
If you go:
What: Public hearing on reinstating a 2 percent raise for Tupper Lake town Highway Superintendent Bill Dechene
When: 4 p.m. Dec. 10
Where: Lower level of the town hall, 120 Demars Blvd., Tupper Lake
Councilman Jerry Fletcher said he wasn't in support of any raises. Instead, he wanted to give each worker a stipend, because raises compound over the years, adding to the town budget, while stipends are one-time payments.
Randy Bedore asked how the decision to take away Dechene's raise was made if the majority of the five-person board was against it.
"I did," Amell said. "As the supervisor, I made the decision."
As Bedore continued to ask Amell questions, the supervisor repeatedly said, "I don't have to answer these questions."
Bedore noted that Amell told the Enterprise Dechene wasn't hands-on enough when he justified taking the raise away from him. Bedore asked Amell what his definition of the term "hands-on" is, saying he's seen Dechene be hands-on a number of times.
"I don't have to explain anything," Amell said. "If you don't know the definition, you shouldn't ask the question."
Bedore went so far as to call for Amell to step down from his position, saying part of the budget was put together unethically, and to accuse him of making purchases that sidestepped the legal process in the past.
"He has abused his position by disregarding the majority of this board, misleading statements, inappropriate purchases and his inability to set aside personal vendettas against Mr. Dechene, which has been obvious since the day he beat you on the election," Bedore said.
Ron LaScala, who lost in his bid for an open village trustee seat in Tuesday's elections, said that after someone loses an election, one needs to set aside any bitterness and work together with the people who won.
"At the end, we're all still Tupper Lakers, win or lose," LaScala said.
LaScala said he doesn't know Dechene or his wife, "but I do know I see him out working," LaScala said. "And it upsets me when my elected official goes to the paper and attacks somebody that I see working hard in the community.
"This man has given his whole adult life to serving the community. I find it very offensive. It upsets me."
Bucky Kentile, who was a highway superintendent for the town and village at different points in the past, said Dechene is an elected official, and as long as he abides by his budget, Amell should stay out of his business.
"You've got nothing to do with the highway department," Kentile said.
Dechene made a simple statement.
"I feel that I've worked well with the board, I've worked very well for the taxpayers, and I'd like the board to reconsider the 2 percent for me," he said. "That's all I have to say tonight."
"You didn't say you work well with me, though," Amell responded.
"I work well with the board, Roger," Dechene replied. "You're part of the board."
"I just want that on record," Amell said.
Amell said multiple times during the meeting that he was getting thrown under the bus.
He said later in the meeting that Dechene was more than a month late submitting his requested 2013 budget, offering that as an explanation for taking away Dechene's raise.
The board couldn't add the raise back into the budget, since the lower salary was advertised in the public notice for it. So the board had to approve the budget; then Littlefield introduced a local law to give Dechene a raise.
Board members set a public hearing for 4 p.m. Dec. 10 on the issue; then they plan to pass the law afterward at their regular meeting.
The current version of the budget uses $1.34 million in property taxes toward $1.98 million in total spending. That's a tax levy increase of about $17,000, or 1.3 percent, over the current year, keeping the town under the state's 2 percent tax cap.
Taxpayers inside the village will see an 8 cent increase in their tax rate, to $2.53 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Taxpayers outside the village will see a 1 cent increase to 45 cents.
Littlefield noted that Dechene's raise can be added without affecting the bottom line of the budget.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.