With Fredonia's budget season in full-swing, eyes are turning to whether a tax increase will be seen.
Several residents spoke out on the village board's intention to override the state-mandated tax cap during a recent public hearing. Mayor Stephen Keefe said he is "optimistic" the board will stay under the cap this year, but it reserves the ability to override it if necessary.
"This is a year that is important not to exceed the cap, and I would ask you not to pass a local law giving yourself the ability to do it," former mayor Michael Sullivan told the board, citing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to give property tax rebates to communities that stay under the cap, and then next year stay under the cap and prove shared services.
“Many people tell me their tax payment is higher than their mortgage.”
Fredonia resident Mary Jane Starks, who spoke out against a tax cap override during a recent public hearing on the subject
"The whole idea of the cap was to create the need to push governments into more shared services and regionalization. We need to spend more time talking about those things so we can find ways to continue enhancing services for our residents."
Resident Mary Jane Starks expressed her opposition to an override as well.
"Don't give yourself that safety net. Force yourself to cut in this budget and make it under the cap. If you override it, it could cost every taxpayer a rebate, and that's something we all need," she told the board.
Starks pointed out many businesses and taxpayers are leaving the area because they cannot afford the taxes in Fredonia, which has by far the highest taxes of any village in the county.
"Many people tell me their tax payment is higher than their mortgage," she said. "It's got to stop."
Keefe said a glitch in Cuomo's rebate proposal is if one municipality that has shared services with another municipality does not stay below the cap, both are ineligible for the rebate.
"If any one of us is not under the cap, it takes the other ones out of the formula," he said, referencing Fredonia School and the town of Pomfret. "We're all in the same boat together."
Resident Heath Forster told the board if it exceeds the cap, it should note what is driving increases.
"I've worked at a school district and for us, we had the same issue with the cap, and the cap is something that has really limited us," he said. "I'm curious if you guys feel there was enough preventive maintenance done ... When you talk about the cap, I'm concerned as a taxpayer because there's a lot of things that are negative about paying higher taxes. We have a lot of houses up for sale and I think it's hard for people to buy a house with high taxes in our area."
Keefe said instead of building up reserves, the board has lowered taxes.
"Should we have been building reserves up to fix infrastructure? Of course," he said. "Staying under the cap isn't going to fix those problems. What we're doing right now is we're working with a Band-Aid effort to keep everything under control. We're all taxpayers here ... and we're going to do everything we can to make it as affordable to live here as possible."
Keefe added if the cap is exceeded with no override in place, the village will be "penalized in a severe way."
"I'm of the opinion we should pass every year an override on the cap, just to keep ourselves safe in case there is an error or an unexpected expense," he said. "Right now, we're working diligently on the budget and we're looking at every penny, trying to figure out what we can cut, but there's only so much you can cut ..."
Trustee Susan Mackay said she realizes people feel there is "a real temptation" if an override is in place.
"Everybody feels ... if you've got this, the inclination is to use it, and I think this is a conservative board and we recognize that's a temptation we're not going to succumb to."
The tentative budget will be presented Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the village hall. A public hearing on the budget will be held April 7.
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