Gowanda eyes property tax hike

GOWANDA – Resi-dents in the village of Gowanda could potentially see quite the increase in village taxes next year. The Gowanda Village Board recently held a public hearing on its preliminary budget, currently an 11 percent increase over last year’s budget.

The budget, which is still being worked on by the village board, has a proposed tax levy of $1,377,378 compared to last year’s levy of $1,007,949. The proposed tax rate for the budget as it stands is $15.97 per $1,000 of assessed value for those residing in Erie County and $18.70 for those residing in Cattaraugus County.

George Stark, former village assessor for more than 30 years, said the village tax rates may be incorrect. In the budget, the breakdown for the tax levy stands at 33 percent for Erie County and just under 67 percent for Cattaraugus County. Since the village eliminated its assessor, this will be the first fiscal year using the town’s assessments.

According to Stark, the town of Persia has a 78 percent equalization rate whereas the town of Collins equalization rate is 62 percent. Based on the equalization rates, Stark believes the tax breakdown should be about 61 percent for Persia and 39 percent for Collins. Through his research, Stark believes the tax rates should be $16.71 for Cattaraugus County and $19.82 for Erie County. Treasurer Cindy Schilling said the assessments from the Office of Real Property were the equalized rates.

Other topics of discussion included the increase in the police budget and road construction. The village’s budget has a proposed $45,000 increase for road construction. Joe Vogtli, who spoke at the hearing, suggested the village allocate more funding for road repair. He said some roads paved last year already have potholes.

“We really need to take, I think, a different approach … some of the streets are just horrible to have to drive on. I think we have to have some kind of plan for lasting repair …,” he said.

The preliminary police budget has an increase of $41,088 over last year’s budgeted amount of $253,821. The budget line items that see an increase include personal services, equipment, copier maintenance, meetings and ammunition. Janet Vogtli, who spoke at the hearing, questioned why the police department was seeing an increase this year.

“Every year I come here asking for more things for the police and you always cut them,” said Vogtli. “Now all of a sudden money seems to flow freely into the police department.”

Mayor Heather McKeever said the police budget includes figures from former Officer in Charge Joseph Alessi. This is also the first year the department is supporting a full-time officer. Resident Pete Johnson said he remembers a time when the police department was much smaller with fewer than a dozen officers. He questioned why the village has 20 part-time officers, stating he feels the village is just as safe as it was years ago. McKeever said one officer is on duty 24 hours a day.

During her remarks, Vogtli also criticized the village board for holding a public hearing on a preliminary budget. Typically, she said, a budget should be completed prior to the public hearing.

“To me it’s kind of premature for (the board) to ask the community to give you input when we don’t even know what you plan on doing with the budget,” she said.

McKeever said she did not receive the town assessment rates until two days before the mayor’s budget was due to the village clerk; those assessment rates were later modified after being given to the village. Trustee Carol Sheibley did agree the budget process should have started much sooner.

“I am probably the most senior member of the board and a few years back we used to start the process in January, not the first part in April. This doesn’t give us much time,” Sheibley said.

The village board will finalize the budget at two more budget workshops. McKeever acknowledged the village does have more work to do on the budget. She, along with the trustees, thanked those in attendance for coming and sharing their opinions.

“Your suggestions mean a lot,” said McKeever. “Our goal is to get as close, if not below, that tax cap as possible.”

The budget workshops will be held on Monday, April 21 and Tuesday, April 22, both starting at 5:30 p.m.

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