A haunting folly in Forestville

On Friday, March 28, the village of Forestville took over the top half of our newspaper with an eye-catching, unthinkable headline. It also was the most read story on our Web site that day.

Its proposed 445 percent tax increase is so unfathomable we ran the figures once, twice, three times, then called an accountant.

It was true.

Earlier this week, the story of the massive tax hike became a regional issue. Buffalo media converged on the village of 700 residents to cover the Tuesday meeting that dealt with a monstrous tax hike.

It will not be long until many across the nation learn about the notoriety of Forestville and its proposed tax hike.

How can a village, which runs on an annual budget of $490,000 for its fiscal year, be so far in debt?

It all comes down to bad choices. Choices, unfortunately, that are quite common nowadays.

They include:

Not wanting to change a broken governmental entity because of a fear of the unknown.

A buddy system, where everyone who works for the governmental entity is protected with pay raises while taxpayers flee ever so slowly.

Disinterested residents who believe “nothing will change” no matter how much they complain.

A lack of participation from many residents.

Elected officials who shun those who do participate and raise questions about the governmental entity in meetings.

Overpaying for a village attorney who may have not been working – and most definitely was not showing up for meetings.

For at least seven years, Forestville was warned things were chaotic. Some residents complained while actions were taking place, but many others continued to maintain everything was just fine.

This newspaper had done numerous editorials on the lack of detail being followed by previous boards. Meetings were run so poorly that officials asked our staff reporters regularly if they were following proper procedure.

We covered employee pay raises, some of which topped 12 percent, and came about in consecutive years. The board’s reason? Its salaries were lower than those of other municipalities in the county.

One former mayor who pushed through the high pay raises now runs the street department. It is not always a coincidence how things work out.

We also covered news stories in which the former clerk botched billing with a water system. That report came from the state comptroller’s office in Albany.

Almost obliviously, that former disgraced clerk assailed in the comptroller’s report regularly attends village meetings to point out errors by the current board and new clerk. Strangely, however, she was absent at the meeting where residents were fuming over the 445 percent tax increase.

How do residents on fixed incomes afford this? How do leaders say decisions have to be “what is best for the village” when people, not an entity, are the ones suffering?

Dissolution is still an option. The town of Hanover probably does not want it, but do not forget, the state incentivizes downsizing. Maybe those outstanding loans and fees will be forgiven if there is one less governmental entity in northern Chautauqua County.

Chautauqua County already has the unpleasant ranking of being one of the highest taxed areas in the nation.

When the national media converges on Forestville to report on the devastating tax hike – it was reported by USA Today on Thursday – it will not reflect well on any of us. And, it will diminish whatever glitzy national ad campaign our state has been trying to get across to companies and industry nationwide.

How can New York be open for business if a local community in Western New York is planning to raise its taxes 445 percent?

John D’Agostino is the publisher of the OBSERVER. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.