MAYVILLE – The Chautauqua County Legislature Wednesday night voted in favor of a plan that would assist with any future government reduction initiatives taken place between two or more municipalities in the county.
By a vote of 17 to 1, the legislature approved its Government Reduction Initiative (GRI) plan, which outlines the parameters for how the county would assist other municipalities in the county to accomplish the consolidation and dissolution of local government entities. Proponents of consolidation say it would result in reduced property taxes, improved business climate, and spur economic development.
The plan comes forward as a result of the county being a finalist in the state’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition for local governments, which involves a competition for $20 million in grant awards, where counties in the state were encouraged to submit government reduction proposals. Chautauqua County is one of six counties in the state to be a finalist for the money.
During the earlier public comment portion of the meeting, Cassadaga resident Bonnie Peters, who also serves as president of CSEA Local 807, said that any consolidation effort put forward as a result of the plan wouldn’t necessarily save taxpayers money, citing the recent dissolution of the village of Seneca Falls, which resulted in residents taxes going up, not going down. She said that in early every dissolution that has taken place across the state, the actual tax savings have been significantly lower compared to what was promised before a vote took place.
“Hopefully you see that passing a resolution which predicts all dissolutions and mergers to be beneficial to the county is premature at best,” Peters said. “The last thing we need is the county legislature here in Mayville telling the residents of Silver Creek, Fredonia, and Lakewood – just to name a few – what’s best for them.”
Peters also said that if saving money for residents was the top priority, the legislature should instead focus its attention on the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, which recently cancelled a $1 million loan for the failed Jamestown MVP Plastics.
“As a taxpayer, I wholly applaud the county’s attempt to save tax dollars. However, I would encourage the county to look at all the waste in the IDA, before you encourage towns to strip away the vital services their residents have come to depend on,” Peters said, adding, “The Chautauqua County IDA uniform tax exemption policy and guidelines number F addresses the recapture of benefits. Has the IDA ever utilized this clawback of funds? Did we get any of the money back from the aforementioned Jamestown MVP plastics?”
The only legislator who voted against he plan was Dunkirk Democrat Robert Bankoski, who said that while he appreciated the work put into the plan by fellow legislator Terry Niebel, he agreed with Peters.
In response to Peters’ statements, legislator George Borrello, a Republican from Hanover who chairs the county’s Regional Solutions Commission and is running for County Executive in the 2017 election, said that consolidations and dissolutions have been successful in Chautauqua County and have also resulted in saving taxpayer money. Borrello, who is also a member of the county IDA, didn’t respond to Peters’ criticism of the IDA.