Pointing the finger

OBSERVER Staff Report

FORESTVILLE – Two of the debts driving the village of Forestville’s skyhigh proposed tax rate should not have been the responsibility of village taxpayers.

Village Clerk/Treasurer James White pointed to former village Attorney Michael Bolender for dropping the ball on these issues.

In a press release from White, it was noted Bolender was the common thread between the underlying issues driving the proposed 445 percent tax rate hike.

“When questions as to how these odd loans were generated and defaulted, conversations turn to a demolition of privately-owned buildings and replacement waterlines outside the village and the counsel previous administrations received from the former village attorney on these issues and their subsequent financing. Further questions lead to how much money the village spent on legal counsel that in hindsight seems inadequate at best,” the press release said.

Bolender was the village’s attorney in 2009 when it was determined a privately-owned building on Main Street needed to be torn down. The village has said it is unclear who made the call to tear down the building. However, the cost of the demolition is well known – $250,000.

This was originally classified as a bond anticipation note and in November 2012 it was converted to a revenue anticipation note. Because of this conversion to be reflected as a $175,000 revenue from the state Department of Transportation, village officials said they were unaware of this debt until November 2013.

At a recent meeting it was noted when the village could not produce paperwork authenticating the revenue, the bank filed litigation to guarantee the $250,000 would be paid with a tax anticipation note in the 2014-2015 budget year.

Because of this, the bank, which also holds the $150,000 BAN for the Bennett State Road waterline, refused to renew the BAN, effectively making this debt delinquent.

Bolender was also the village’s attorney in 2011 when the village replaced the crumbling waterline located outside the village without having a water district to legally be responsible for the cost.

While it is unclear exactly how much in total Bolender made from servicing Forestville and other municipalities, based on the website SeeThroughNY.net, Michael Bolender received more than $1 million in less than four years from the villages of Forestville, Cherry Creek, Mayville and Sherman and the towns of Westfield and Ripley just in payroll, prior to retiring in 2012.

The Empire Center for New York State Policy lists Bolender’s wage as one of the highest paid to a municipal employee in upstate New York.

SeeThroughNY.net also reports that in his first year of retirement alone, this individual received almost $120,000 in New York state pension calculated primarily on that $1 million plus.

Forestville has made inquiries whether any type of investigation has been made into the appropriateness of the pay and pension of Bolender.

In the release White stated, “I know that we have spoken to quite a number of state agencies and officials on this issue. To date, it is unclear as to what if any action can and will be taken in this matter.”

Aside from the amount, White was asked if there was anything else about the former attorney’s compensation that raised flags.

White replied, “Actually, there are quite a number of issues ranging from the amounts paid, the services rendered and whether he was actually an independent contractor rather than an employee eligible for the village to contribute to his pension. Given the state of the village’s dilemma and burden on the taxpayer, I have found it very hard to believe that various New York State agencies tasked with oversight have not taken a more proactive approach in either confirming or overturning this matter.”

At the recent village board meeting, the board decided to pay the $150,000 delinquent BAN and interest on both debts with a cash transfer of otherwise earmarked funds. This will lower the proposed $27.97 per thousand assessed value tax rate, but a specific amount was not given at the meeting.

The board will meet again on April 22.