County Approves Amended Bailout

MAYVILLE – When Forestville resident David Flowers found out his village taxes may increase by 445 percent, it was another blow, following the news that his 16-year career at Carriage House would end due to ConAgra’s closure of both facilities in Dunkirk and Fredonia.

Fortunately, Flowers and many other Forestville residents will not see such an extreme increase – not 445 percent anyway.

Chautauqua County Legislators from both sides of the aisle and opposite ends of the county agreed on a financial aid package for the village at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Seventeen legislators voted in favor of providing financial assistance to the village in the form of a loan of $150,000, with restrictions.

The new financial aid package does not include reimbursement of $87,344 in tipping fees originally proposed at last week’s Audit and Control Committee.

Even though Wednesday’s new resolution did not include the tipping fee reimbursement, the deadline for repayment of the loan was extended by five years, to be paid no later than June 15, 2019, at an interest rate of 3 percent.

The original resolution included a loan for $150,000 at an interest rate of 2.5 percent, to be paid by the end of the year.

The $87,344 worth of tipping fees would have been reimbursed in exchange for 14 years of landfill tipping fees to which the village would otherwise be entitled.

However, some legislators did not agree with last week’s financial aid package, the tipping fees in particular.

“I am much more comfortable with this new resolution, and will be able to support it,” said Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, adding that the loan is secure due to the fact that if the village does not pay it back by June 15, 2019, the county will offset the village’s sales tax distribution. “We basically have a guarantee that we will be paid.”

Nazzaro also said that local law 18-95, which was created to financially aid local governments for water, sewer and drainage improvements, played a large part in his decision. Forestville accrued such debt because of a waterline project and an emergency demolition.

“This loan is tied to infrastructure for water, sewage and drainage improvements,” Nazzaro said. “It’s tied to water. It does not mean that any other municipality can come to the county and ask for loans because they’re having difficulty balancing their budgets or don’t want to pass a certain tax rate. This is very restrictive and I think it’s important that we help those in our community.”

George Borrello, R-Irving, equated the situation to a game of “hot potato.”

“The people on this board are holding a hot potato, and dealing with a situation they inherited and did not create,” he said. “It’s important to understand this is not a hand out. The village has stood up and answered as to how they will prevent another situation like this, and I believe they’re on a path to making an informed decision sometime in the future about possible consolidation.”

Borrello said he was disappointed that reimbursement of tipping fees was not included in the agreement, but that he understood.

Forestville Mayor Kevin Johnson said the tax levy will still have to be raised, but he was relieved that it will not have to be raised by anywhere near 445 percent.

While the village’s current property tax rate is $5.14 per $1,000 of assessed home value, Johnson said it will probably increase to approximately $10 per $1,000 in the village’s new budget, which must be passed by April 30.

“If everything works out, the tax rate will be double,” he said. “From there, we’ll be able to make improvements in the coming year. I think we can make something happen with this.”

As for potentially dissolving the village, he said it’s not an easy process.

“There’s a very lengthy study that has to be done, and frankly I would welcome that study so we can see exactly where we have to go, and where our finances need to be in the near future and long run,” he said.

The loan is contingent on an audit by the New York State Comptroller of the village’s financial records from the past five years, and the village participating in a task force consisting of county officials to examine the viability of the village as a continuing municipal entity. The village must also begin the process of obtaining grant monies for an independent study regarding the feasibility of dissolving the village.

Last year, dissolution of the village was considered, yet strongly rejected by the community, which garnered a petition with more than 200 signatures opposing the idea.

Dave Wilfong, R-Jamestown, made a neighborly statement prior to the vote.

“In the past, problems were broken down between north county and south county issues with neither entity caring about what happened at the other end of the county,” he said. “I want to assure the people of Forestville that the people of the great city of Jamestown are willing to help our fellow citizens at this time.”

Flowers said he was appreciative of what the Chautauqua County Legislature did Wednesday night, and that a number of Forestville residents had been concerned about the possibility of losing their homes due to such a tax hike.

“I’ve been in mine for 18 years and I don’t want to lose it because of someone else’s mistakes made in the past,” he said.

The resolution was approved by a vote of 17 to 1.

Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott, voted against the resolution, while John Hemmer, R-Westfield, was absent.