Horrigan to hold shared services forum

MAYVILLE – Local municipal leaders will soon have the opportunity to gain a better understanding of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s property tax freeze plan.

Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan announced he will hold an informational forum Wednesday, July 16, in Mayville to discuss the impact of shared services among municipalities as they relate to Cuomo’s plan, a highly discussed portion of the state budget passed in April.

State officials and representatives from the New York State Association of Counties will be present to answer questions from 1-4 p.m. in the conference room at the Chautauqua County Office of Emergency Services, 2 Academy St., Mayville regarding the governor’s plan.

The forum was previously scheduled to be held in room B10 of the Gerace Office Building but was moved to a new location to enable Dave Lucas from the New York State Association of Counties to attend the forum by video conference.

More than 40 local municipal leaders and school district officials are expected to attend the forum.

“There are a lot of details to it, and my hope is that we’re going to receive some good information,” Horrigan said. “It’s a complex proposal and I think it’s a good thing for us to bring everyone together to say ‘this is what we know,’ answer questions and document our shared services initiatives so we can set up a good communication channel.”

Nationwide, Chautauqua County is one of the 15 highest-taxed counties in terms of property taxes paid as a percentage of home value.

According to Cuomo, this is because of the high number of local governments, of which there are 10,500 statewide.

Consolidation of Chautauqua County’s 18 school districts and 44 local governments along with shared services between municipalities would help lower taxes in the future, Cuomo said.

The program will take effect over the course of two years, beginning in fiscal year 2015 for municipalities and fiscal year 2014 for schools.

In the first year, if a municipality stays below the tax cap, the state would refund property tax owners any tax increase.

For example, if a municipality experienced a 1.5 percent increase in property taxes, homeowners would receive a refund check from the state for any increase they paid over the prior year.

If the cap is exceeded, homeowners would not be eligible for refunds.

According to the budget bill, property tax cuts will be extended for a second year in jurisdictions which comply with the tax cap and have a state-approved government efficiency plan demonstrating three-year savings and efficiencies of at least 1 percent of the budget per year from shared services, cooperation agreements and/or mergers or efficiencies.

Past efficiencies, shared services and reforms in the approval process would also be considered for further savings.

This is why Horrigan said he wants to get the ball rolling.

“I don’t want to wait until the last minute and then possibly miss out on some property tax relief,” he said. “We want to document what we know and what we don’t know so that as we move into the budget process we have the answers to our questions.”

While the forum will not be open to the public, elected municipal leaders and school officials are urged to attend.

“I want to work together as a whole community to continue to provide the services our residents expect while lowering the costs of those services,” Horrigan said. “I am hopeful that this first forum will lead the way for additional shared services meetings to discuss collaboration and cooperation throughout the county.”

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, said he is pleased with Horrigan’s initiative to develop and implement a plan to achieve long-term tax savings through shared services, cooperation agreements, mergers or other efficiencies.

“Our county has a proud tradition of cooperation, and I am confident that this process will result in significant tax savings for local residents,” he said. “Reducing our overall tax burden is key to making Chautauqua County more affordable for everyone and more competitive for our local businesses.”