MAYVILLE - Municipal leaders across Chautauqua County will have to start brainstorming soon about increasing shared services if they want to see tax savings in the next few years.
Approximately 70 elected officials gathered at May-ville's Emergency Services building on Wednesday afternoon for a forum about shared services, hosted by County Executive Vince Horrigan.
Dave Lucas from the New York State Association of Counties guided the meeting.
Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Jamestown, was also in attendance to answer questions about Gov. Andrew Cuomo's property tax freeze program, an initiative set forth in the state budget involving tax credits for municipalities from 2014-16.
"This whole idea of shared services is part of a two-year initiative and everyone in this room is familiar with shared services," Lucas said. "The governor thinks we need to do more of it."
Beginning in fiscal year 2015 for municipalities and fiscal year 2014 for schools, the state will refund property owners any tax increase they experience over the prior year if the municipality in which they live stays below the tax cap.
Any local override of the tax cap makes homeowners ineligible for the tax freeze credit, even if the municipality stays within the cap.
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.
"Only STAR eligible properties will get the rebate," Lucas said. "The Depart-ment of Taxation and Finance is going to calculate the potential tax freeze credits for every single house on a house-by-house basis. They're going to look at your tax bill, see if it went up from the last year and calculate it for each municipality and send it out in the fall of 2015."
Lucas said year one is pretty simple.
"You just have to stay within your allowable tax cap growth," he said. "It's not easy in general due to budgeting but that's really the only requirement."
Year two requires that municipalities stay within the tax cap and submit a government efficiency or shared services plan demonstrating savings equal to 1 percent of the combined property tax levies for those participating in the joint plan.
Efficiency plans are due to the State Division of the Budget by June 1, 2015.
"I think part of the goal of the governor here is to get folks to look at situations where there may be a better way to provide services," Lucas said.
Goodell said, as an example, a homeowner could multiply 1.5 percent by their total tax bill from last year for a rough estimate of how much they might receive as individual homeowners.
To the elected officials in the room, he encouraged everyone to become involved.
"The purpose behind the bill was to reduce expenditures and give refunds based on overall reductions and staying within the cap," he said. "It's an interesting challenge, but for those few days when your residents get a rebate check, remind them it's because of your hard work."
Many seemed to question if the effort would be worth it over the course of the two years, considering the rebates could be small.
For example, a homeowner paying $7,000 in property taxes per year would receive roughly $100 if the municipality in which they live stayed within the 1.5 percent property tax cap.
Horrigan encouraged a positive attitude and said the county would take the lead with the program.
"Opportunities are here, and we should do everything we can to expand those opportunities to make our cost of government cheaper," he said. "It's easy to be cynical, but let's capture this and roll it up."
Another meeting is planned for November, when the public will be invited to attend.
Information will also be updated on the county website at www.co.chautauqua.ny.us.