County Assistance?

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.

“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.