FORESTVILLE - Chautauqua County officials are working on helping the village of Forestville avoid the proposed 445 percent tax hike.
The Forestville Village Board recently presented a budget with a 445 percent tax rate increase to $27.97 per thousand assessed value. The main reasons for the hike were outstanding debts in the amount of $250,000 for demolition of a building in 2009 and construction of a waterline in 2011 for $150,000.
This week Forestville Mayor Kevin Johnson sent a letter to Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan asking for his help to pay back the demolition debt.
The letter asked for the county to reimburse the village for some of the $250,000, which prior to 2009 would have been relevied by the county on the property owners' taxes. It also asked for a refund of the nearly $100,000 in tipping fees from the county landfill.
"As the Chautauqua County Emergency Services and county engineers demanded that a structure in the center of the village be demolished and remediated, could you please actively pursue having the county honor its obligation and bear at least some, if not all, of the $250,000 cost that the county was actively involved in imposing on village taxpayers?" the letter read.
In addition to financial help for the village, Johnson also asked for help for village residents.
Dear County Executive Horrigan,
On behalf of the Village Board and the community, thank you very much for publicly expressing a desire to help the taxpayers in the Village of Forestville.
As we were not aware of any response from you when the attorney for the Village contacted you several months ago requesting assistance, we were very pleasantly surprised and appreciative to hear of your desire to determine how you might be of assistance now to reduce the burden on Forestville's taxpayers.
I am very sensitive to the fact that you, like my fellow Village board members and myself, find yourself in a position where you have inherited many challenges not of your making. With that in mind, we are appreciative of any assistance you are willing and able to provide.
Upon reflection, I thought of several possible ways you might be able to directly help the Village and I remain open to other suggestions as well.
As the Chautauqua County Emergency Services and County engineers demanded that a structure in the center of the Village be demolished and remediated, could you please actively pursue having the County honor its obligation and bear at least some, if not all, of the $250K cost that the County was actively involved in imposing on Village taxpayers?
As the Chautauqua County legislature changed the policy on reimbursement of relevies by municipalities for demolitions after the Village had already incurred the cost and submitted the relevy, could you please formally request and encourage the County legislature to recognize the inappropriateness of leaving the Village high and dry in this case and honor the policy then in force by reimbursing the Village the $250K that was relevied and then by foreclosing and selling the impacted parcel?
As Chautauqua County landfill imposed nearly $100K tipping fees of the $250K to dispose of the demolition debris that the demolition contractor for the Village paid to the County, could you please refund the nearly $100K paid in lieu of the many demolition tipping fee credits that you would be providing the Village in upcoming years?
As Chautauqua County issues the reimbursement to the Village of amounts relevied typically in March, nearly half a year after the tax relevies are submitted to the County for reimbursement per NYS law, could you please direct the reimbursement to be made prior to the end of 2014 to ease the cash crunch with which the Village will be dealing?
As Chautauqua County is tasked with collection of tax bills which the Village is unable to collect within the first four months after they are due, could you please make some type of payment plan arrangement with those Village residents who were unable to make full payment prior to their balances being sent to the County for relevy in order to help minimize the number of residents that will be at risk of losing their homes?
By the way, in order to most help the Village taxpayer, could you please provide written confirmation of Chautauqua County's commitment to do one or more of the assistance measures requested above prior to April 30, 2014? While assistance after that would still be helpful and appreciated, it will already be too late for this year for the Village taxpayers and will most likely result in some of the most vulnerable in the community losing their homes and have adverse impact on the residents and the community for years to come.
In closing, Mr. Horrigan, YES, there very much is a need and a desire for your direct assistance into the dilemma currently facing the taxpayers in the Village of Forestville. I thank you for publicly expressing your willingness to help. On behalf of myself, my family, my neighbors and my Village, I eagerly appeal for and await your response and assistance.
Kevin L. Johnson
Village of Forestville
"As Chautauqua County is tasked with collection of tax bills which the Village is unable to collect within the first four months after they are due, could you please make some type of payment plan arrangement with those Village residents who were unable to make full payment prior to their balances being sent to the County for relevy in order to help minimize the number of residents that will be at risk of losing their homes?" he asked.
Horrigan said he received the letter and intends to help the village in whatever way the county can.
"Me and the County Attorney (Steve Abdella) had a meeting (Friday) with Village Attorney Michael Sullivan. We are putting together a plan on how we can assist them. However, there is a lot of financial detail to this, so we have to make sure anything we do follows municipal law. ... I am optimistic that we can help them to some degree that has yet to be determined," he said in a phone interview Friday.
Horrigan was asked if he thinks the county will be able to help the village financially.
"The county has never funded demolitions. I think there was some misunderstanding in the letter. What we do hope to be able to do is provide financing to reduce the tax levy on the residents of Forestville," he explained, adding state law regulates the extent of what the county can do and any measure will have to be approved by the legislature.
Horrigan said the county will also do whatever it can legally to help homeowners stay in their homes.
"Should the current situation result in nonpayment, we will do everything we can to keep people in their homes. No one wants residents, especially seniors, out of their homes," he said.
Horrigan said it is his intention to present a plan to assist Forestville to the Audit and Control Committee at its meeting April 17 in order to have action taken by the legislature at its meeting on April 23. He explained this will enable the village to have a plan before its deadline to submit a final tax levy at the end of the month.