Forestville keeps identity after dissolution

OBSERVER Photo Pictured is Route 39, which becomes Main Street in the hamlet of Forestville.

FORESTVILLE – After cutting through the thick fog that enveloped the hills of Route 39 on Wednesday morning, the downtown district of the former village came into focus near the bottom of Sheridan Hill. Six years ago, this sleepy hamlet was involved in a heated and divisive topic: should the government be dissolved?

Residents here, in November 2016, voted for a second consecutive year to eliminate the village by a 195-125 margin in what many who gathered in village hall on the evening of Nov. 8 considered to be the “best turnout” for an election they had ever seen. Some were disappointed. Others were saddened. A few abruptly left the building, understanding the end was near.

But no one celebrated. There a was a dose of pain that was going to exist no matter what the outcome.

Those who believed it was best to maintain the village were most insulted by the result. Final village Mayor Kevin Johnson was unfairly placed in the middle of it all.

When he took the helm, the village was fiscally strapped. According to the Chautauqua County Office of Real Property Tax, from 2011 to 2016, Forestville taxes had increased 101.62%.

Most of those costs that were passed on to property owners came from an emergency demolition of a large downtown building and the emergency replacement of the Bennett State Road water line. In addition, the village had to completely overhaul its water system — and with no money reserved for that, the Environmental Facilities Corporation had to step in with a loan. Further muddying the landscape, during its last decade, the village was plagued by political turmoil and a lack of responsible bookkeeping.

Paul Bishop, associate principal for CGR Promising Solutions and the project director for Forestville’s dissolution, could see the writing on the wall regarding the fiscal woes that were only going to get worse. “Sometimes the facts outline a compelling case,” Bishop said in 2016. “That’s the case in Forestville; there’s a strong financial case for dissolving, without much of a change in services (for the residents).”

In the end, more villagers agreed with Bishop than those who did not. It is one of the few cases in this county in recent decades where residents said enough to being shouldered with high costs.

With school budget votes less than two weeks away and a number of villages already approving plans, the excuses are in full force. Inflation spikes are hurting us all, especially those on fixed incomes.

Our governments and schools, however — all of which have benefitted in some way from American Rescue Plan Act funding over the last two years– still want taxpayers to shell out more money in these spending plans. The reason? Those rising costs seen at the pumps, grocery stores and throughout the retail sector.

By dissolving its government in 2016, Forestville is paying one less layer of taxes. Property owners still support the county, it’s school and the town.

As for the landscape of the former village this week, it’s obvious that not much has changed during the time of a lessened government presence. In fact, roads were still being plowed and maintained while the services once handled by the village are now overseen by the town.

There’s also a real bright spot that has emerged in this community — a strong segment of volunteers working to promote and better the hamlet. Imagine Forestville, led by Aimee Rogers, has been working on a number of projects. Just last month, the group teamed with high school students to clean a hiking trail that will be opening to the public on July 9.

“We have been blessed with a very helpful and supportive Hanover Town Board, without which this trail would never come to fruition,” Rogers said in an OBSERVER article recently. “It was the dream of a community that has gotten us this far, and we couldn’t be happier.”

Government, for all intents and purposes, is pleased to move at a slow pace while maintaining what it has — no matter how inefficient it may be. That certainly is the case for much of our local representation, which takes prides in its lack of accomplishments. Area volunteers, however, due to an investment of their own time will get things done.

Forestville is a lesson to all the small local entities hanging by a thread. Sure, it will be a bit different without a taxing entity. But it is not a doom and gloom scenario pro-government advocates so often promote as a scare tactic.

Despite the fog that morning surrounding the former village, the sun did rise again.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-366-3000, ext. 253.


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