Board overrides tax cap, cites safety net

The Fredonia Village Board now has the authority to override the state-mandated property tax cap in next year’s budget if it so chooses.

The board recently voted to enact Local Law No. 1 of 2014, which authorizes a tax levy in excess of the limit established by the state. Trustee Marc Ruckman cast the sole “nay” vote; he previously told the OBSERVER he did not want to “open the door” to an uncontrolled tax increase.

Before voting on the measure, some board members explained to the public why they wished to enact this law, citing the need for a safety net in case any unforeseen circumstances surface before the budget officially passes.

“All you have to have is one calculation error in your budget, a one or zero in the wrong place, and we could exceed our budget by an error and be penalized,” Mayor Stephen Keefe said. “I believe this should be passed every year just in the event that something does go wrong that’s unforeseen or accidental … there’s always the chance for error.”

Keefe added the village has been living on an austerity budget for years.

“It’s always been a tight-belt budget every budget I’ve seen in this village,” he said. “When you look at excess of personnel, we don’t have it, and you look at fluff, we don’t have any fluff. We’re also not a city, like Dunkirk, which gets a million and five (dollars) in state aid.”

According to the 2013-2014 budget, Fredonia received a total of $155,000 in state aid as of the end of January. Dunkirk’s fiscal year 2014 budgeted revenues show $1,575,000 in the state revenue sharing line alone. State revenue sharing is a form of state aid.

Trustee Susan Mackay also spoke about state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to give property tax rebates to communities that stay under the tax cap, and then next year stay under the cap and prove shared services.

“I’d like to make it clear … our research is showing that there’s some confusion even in Albany as to how those rebates will be given,” she said. “What we’re hearing most of the time is that the entire county has to stay below that cap for any resident to receive a rebate. That’s the schools, that’s Jamestown, and Pomfret has already passed this resolution and yet managed to stay under the tax cap.”

Mackay added the passage of the local law solely does not prohibit residents from receiving a rebate, but if the village stays under the cap and another municipality in the county goes over it, it is likely no one will get the rebate.

“This is just a precaution,” she concluded. “Barring unforeseen circumstances, we have no intention of deliberately using this as free money.”

A few residents during the public hearing earlier this month on the local law asked the board not to enact it because it would “cost every village taxpayer that rebate,” according to resident Mary Jane Starks.

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