County committee will consider aiding Forestville

As promised by County Executive Vince Horrigan, the Audit Control Commit-tee will consider measures to help the village of Forestville with its dramatic tax rate hike – but with a few conditions.

On March 27, the Forestville Village Board announced a 445 percent increase in the tax rate to $27.97 per thousand assessed value due to debts in the amount of $250,000 for a 2009 demolition and $150,000 for a waterline on Bennett State road coming due. Since the announcement, county officials have been working with the village to find a short-term solution in time to affect the 2014-2015 tax rate.

The resolution to be considered by the committee today and the full legislature next week includes two ways to assist in the payment of these debts.

According to the resolution, the county can call on its ability to assist municipalities in the county with water, sewer and drainage projects in order to lend the village $150,000 as a “bridge loan.” This loan would allow the village to obtain other long-term financing for the debt, spreading out the cost over time. The village also has the intention of forming a water district on Bennett State road in order to cover this cost.

There is a condition that the county be paid back for this loan no later than Dec. 31.

The other proposed assistance is a trade of 14 years of tipping fee reimbursements from demolitions granted to all municipalities for $87,344 “due to the extraordinary financial distress of the village of Forestville.”

In a letter sent to Horrigan last week, Mayor Kevin Johnson requested the refund of tipping fees charged at the time of demolition, amounting to almost $100,000. In 2009, the county changed its policy of levying demolition costs against private owners. Since 2012, each municipality has been given a credit for tipping fees of 80 tons of demolition material each year.

These two sources of assistance come with a couple strings attached.

The resolution says these measures are contingent upon the village submitting to an audit of the past five years of financial records from the State Comptroller’s Office.

It was also required village officials participate in a task force with county and town of Hanover officials to “examine the viability of the village as a continuing independent municipal entity, including consideration of the potential of dissolution.”

The matter of dissolving the village was brought up last year to a strong negative reaction from residents at village board meetings.

Johnson said he is thankful for anything the county can do to help alleviate the tax hike and is happy with the stipulations.

“I am very grateful for whatever the county can do for us. They are proposing a loan and some funding. We lose 14 years of tipping fee (credits) but at least this takes care of the current situation. The other stipulations were things we were hoping for anyway,” he said. “We have been asking for an audit from the comptroller’s office and maybe the county asking will get it done. With the task force, I hope we can see if we are viable and they can guide us to be a more fiscally responsible entity. The new board members and I understand it is all up to us to get the village back on its feet and this assistance from the county helps with that.”

Johnson said he thinks the village has already made its opposition to dissolution clear, but any decision in the future would be left up to the residents of the village.

Legislator George Borrello, who cosponsored the resolution with Horrigan, said he thinks helping the village is a county issue because the county must refund any unpaid taxes back to the village. Borrello said the resolution can be voted on by the legislature on April 23 even if it does not pass the Audit Control Committee; however, any action must be approved by the legislature.

The village of Forestville must submit a final budget by April 30.