Horrigan, Goodell Counsel Busti Advisory Group

BUSTI – Increasing shared services may not solve every problem for municipalities in Chautauqua County, but it could potentially change things for the better in the town of Busti.

County Executive Vince Horrigan and Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, drove the point home to the Busti Advisory Group and an audience of 18 members on Wednesday night at the Busti Federated Church.

Goodell began the meeting by informing the group about initiatives at the state level, such as grant awards for studies performed by the state Division of Local Government Services to identify cost-savings opportunities.

“If you are interested and have some ideas you want to evaluate, you are right on track with putting it together for an application next year,” Goodell said.

Also, he informed the group about a new initiative of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s which will provide financial incentives in the next three years to municipalities making efforts to remain under their local tax caps while increasing shared services.

Currently, the town’s biggest issue is the location of town court, which is held in the Anthony C. Caprino building. With the town hall located in a newer 11,000-square-foot building, which is 8,500 more square feet than the previous location, the advisory group is working to come up with solutions for the a new court within the town hall’s new location.

“There were 1,300 more arrests in the first six months of the year than last year – or 7,000 arrests.” said David Bargar, advisory group member. “It’s everything from Wal-Mart crimes, to heroin problems.”

Bargar went on to say a decision in remodeling the court must be handled delicately, seeing as how it will come at the expense of town taxpayers.

“It’s not something we’re really excited about, financially or from a safety standpoint or an image standpoint,” he said. “We look at the 31 courts in Chautauqua County, and as citizens we scratch our heads. There should be consolidation and shared space.”

Goodell said he would be glad to look into sharing court spaces between municipalities.

Horrigan spoke for nearly an hour about the state of the county, and provided several examples of shared services in progress.

He spoke about Ripley students attending Chautauqua Lake Central School, the financial feasibility of the village of Forestville dissolving into the town of Hanover and the difficulty that accompanies change in terms of consolidation.

“Bringing people together is how we effect change, but it’s not easy because everybody looks at whatever the proposal is and steps back and asks, ‘What’s in it for me?’ or ‘What am I giving away?’ Everybody’s got to see a win and if you don’t all see a win, it’ll never happen,” he said. “There’s a reason why people don’t want to change, especially those in government and business – they’re geared to procedure and policy.”

In terms of Cuomo’s tax freeze initiative, Horrigan said communities working together will yield the best results.

“We’re going to find a way – I don’t care if we save $1 or $1,000,” he said. “We want to roll this up, send it off to Albany and hopefully someone approves it and that way the taxpayers get the best possible break. Maybe we’ll break new ground. We’re not talking about buildings, here. We’re talking about people.”

Beginning in fiscal year 2015 for municipalities and fiscal year 2014 for schools, the state will refund property owners any tax increase they experience over the prior year if the municipality in which they live stays below the tax cap.

Year two requires that municipalities stay within the tax cap and submit a government efficiency or shared services plan demonstrating savings equal to 1 percent of the combined property tax levies for those participating in the joint plan.

Efficiency plans are due to the State Division of the Budget by June 1, 2015.

Horrigan said he will be hosting several public forums in the coming months to discuss the issue.