Forestville may receive help to avoid 445 percent tax hike

FORESTVILLE, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Chautauqua County Legislature may step in to help the Village of Forestville avoid raising its property taxes by 445 percent.

County lawmakers will consider whether or not to offer a financial assistance package to Forestville at their meeting Wednesday evening. Tuesday evening, Forestville village trustees voted unanimously to abide by the terms of any aid package the county may offer.

The crisis stems from two loans that Forestville owes. The village borrowed $250,000 in 2009 to demolish a building and another $150,000 in 2012 to install a new water line on Bennett State Road. The entire $400,000 is now due to the bank.

“And the only option we had to pay them is to levy the tax bill this year to $400,000, on top of our general $100,000 annual budget,” explained Forestville Mayor Kevin Johnson. “So the county has offered us some help, and until I see exactly what the offer is and how it’s going to work out for them, we’re not going to make a decision on the budget.

Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello, whose district includes the Village of Forestville, explained to residents at Tuesday night’s meeting the aid package that the county is considering. It includes some cash upfront, but also comes with conditions.

“The package right now, as it stands, is a short-term bridge loan of $150,000, also the credit of $87,000 in tipping fees [paid by the Village of Forestville to the county landfill],” for a total of just over $237,000, Borrello said.

But county lawmakers also want to know, “What is Forestville going to do in the future, so that we’re not in this situation again?” Borrello said. To ward off another financial emergency, they are including some conditions in the tentative offer.

“The first condition was the creation of a task force, with members that were appointed by the County Executive and chairman of the legislature. They would be tasked with looking at the financial situation in the village,” Borrello told residents at Tuesday’s meeting. “The second condition was for the village to agree to an audit from the State Comptroller’s Office, over the last five years. Which I don’t think anyone on this board has an issue with. And the third condition was for the village to pursue grant funding for a study to be done, to look into the potential dissolution of the village.”

A dissolution study could take 18 to 24 months, and even after the study is completed, it would still go to a referendum, for residents to vote on.

At least ten of the 19 county lawmakers need to vote in favor of the aid package for it to be approved. Mayor Johnson said he is hopeful the county will come through.

“I’m very hopeful,” he said. “At this point we’re facing a rock and a hard place.”

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