Fredonia Forced To Rework Budget Following ConAgra Announcement

FREDONIA – The announcement of Carriage House’s closure and elimination of about 425 jobs by February could not come at a worse time for village of Fredonia officials, who are knee-deep in the budget process for next fiscal year.

With a budget required to be in place by June, the village board will now look to fill a projected shortfall of over $1 million as Carriage House begins phasing out workers starting in late summer or early fall. Trustee Joseph Cerrie said because Carriage House (the largest private employer in Fredonia) contributes so much to village revenues, the village board is now forced to look at cutting the largest chunk of the budget – personnel.

“This (closure) is going to impact an estimated $1.5 million in the overall budget, which is the water, sewer and general funds,” Cerrie said. “It’s inevitable, there’s going to be cuts across the board from everyone. That’s what we’re elected to do, to make the hard choices; and we’re going to make those choices. What we initially came into this budget knowing, that’s now changed.”

Mayor Stephen Keefe said the plant’s closure will have a huge impact on business as usual for the village, as a result.

“Carriage House will have an impact on everything we do here in the village,” he said. “Both the wastewater treatment plant and the water filtration plant rely heavily on the business.”

Just recently, Keefe released his proposed budget for 2014-15, but with Carriage House slated to end production about four months before the end of the fiscal year, he said he is mulling over making changes to that proposal, if at all possible.

“At that time, I was pleased with being under the tax cap, and yet here we’re going to be hammered by February,” he said. “I would feel guilty leaving my budget as it stands in the hands of the trustees, but I don’t know exactly what my legal rights are on it. It’s going to a public hearing and people can discuss it then.”

Keefe added the intentions for Carriage House’s facilities are still uncertain at this point; the plant could be gutted and left as a shell, an environmental cleanup may or may not be done, or it could be left operational for another corporation to integrate into it.

“I doubt they’re going to do that, but that would be the best option,” he said of the latter option. “We still have the grapes and the work force. Fredonia’s always had canneries in this area.”

In the meantime, the village board is stuck with limited time at this point to enact a budget for a fiscal year without Carriage House around for about one-third of it.

“From the smaller donations we make to Festivals Fredonia all the way up to the water treatment plant, every department and anything we give out, no matter where it is, will be cut,” Cerrie said. “There’s no choices and no one can say right now, ‘We need this for our budget because of this.’ We’ve got to fill an estimated $1.5 million gap.”

“There’s a lot of thinking we need to do over the next few weeks,” Keefe concluded. “We thought we already pulled the belt tight on this budget, now we’re going to be pulling it even tighter.”

The trustees will meet for a budget session at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the village hall. A public hearing on the mayor’s tentative budget, which currently proposes an increase of 71 cents in the tax rate and no changes in the water or sewer rates, will be held at 7:30 p.m. that day.