Crunching the numbers from the state comptroller, two former local government leaders look at dissolution.
If you own property in one of Ontario County’s eight villages, then you pay a village property tax on top of your town tax.
That village tax is the center of a study by two Ontario County men who formed a nonprofit to shed light on the cost of local government. With the village of Rushville facing a June 27 vote on whether to proceed with a dissolution plan, the study comes at prime time.
“We want to be the place to go for good, practical information,” said Francis Coleman, a former Bloomfield village trustee who still lives in the village. He joined forces with Bill Compton, a former East Bloomfield town supervisor and former chairman of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors who still lives in the town. Their independent organization, Ontario County Values Inc., is aimed at putting politics and emotions aside to focus on finances.
“I really applaud their efforts,” Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni said after the men released their first study looking at fire service costs. Polimeni, a Democrat, and former Ontario County Administrator John Hicks, a Republican, are on the Ontario County Values advisory board.
Getting down to villages
Ontario County has yet to dissolve a village.
But around New York state, with incentives flowing from Albany to reduce layers of government, surrounding communities are taking the bait — most recently, the villages of Seneca Falls, Lyons and Macedon. Anticipating a vote in Rushville, where emotions run deep over whether to disband over concerns with village identity and questions about possible savings, experts have addressed the board.
In February, MRB Group’s Director Diana Smith and Project Manager Connie Sowards, who worked on village dissolutions of Seneca Falls and Lyons, emphasized a dissolution plan is an “assumption.” They said residents don’t know the true impact until after a village is fully dissolved, following a lengthy process that shifts costs and services to the town.
Earlier this month, Wade Beltramo of the New York Conference of Mayors was one of those who addressed the Rushville Village Board on dissolution at a meeting that drew some 50 residents.
The village pays $727 in annual dues to his organization in exchange for assistance, publications and lobbying at the state level, Beltramo said. Rushville straddles two towns, Potter in Yates County and Gorham in Ontario County. Beltramo said the village’s two towns would likely “see a significant increase in state aid” if Rushville dissolved.
But since the services provided by towns often vary, Rushville residents could also potentially see differing services depending on the municipality their property is in. Village infrastructure would also have to be co-managed by two towns — not impossible, but complicated, according to Beltramo.
“The state is heavily subsidizing dissolution,” said Coleman, citing grant money paying for dissolution studies and state aid after a village dissolves going toward lowering taxes in the town.
Compton added that because state aid is not set in stone — Albany politics and policies change — the Ontario County Values study looks at how village taxpayers may fare without taking into account such incentives.
“The Value of Villages”
Ontario County Values used Open Book New York, which gives local government spending figures from the state comptroller, to come up with projected cost savings. Compton and Coleman studied the finances of every town and village in the county. Then they made assumptions about potential savings for each village expense account. They also estimated which revenues, such as sales tax, would continue to flow after a village was disbanded.
What was not in their calculation? First, no specific village dissolutions.
“We believe such costs are unique to each village and therefore best left to in-depth dissolution plans per village,” according to “The Value of Villages” executive summary.
The study also omitted the townwide property tax credits now available from the state (because those can change or be pulled in Albany). It also omitted revenues or expenses (except for administration) of village services paid through user fees, such as for sewer and water. These services that are part of the village tax levy would likely become special districts under dissolution. The boundary would coincide with the former village, and the costs would be paid, as before dissolution, by the former village residents. The study assumes these costs would not be affected by dissolution.
The summary states that “aside from closer government access and zoning, virtually all other village functions could be taken over by the town or transferred into town districts.”
Talking about the study on Tuesday, Coleman and Compton said they look forward to response from local government officials whom they hope can benefit from the study. Anyone can access the studies for free, online. The men said the studies are conducted on a non-partisan basis, without advocacy, using publicly available information. They said they do not accept funding from those who are the subjects of the studies. They intend to update the studies annually.
For more information about Ontario County Values Inc., visit www.ocvi.org.
News that matters to you
THE ISSUE New York state offers incentives for villages to dissolve.
LOCAL IMPACT No villages have yet dissolved in Ontario County, but two county men have crunched the numbers on what dissolution could mean for taxpayers.
The figures represent the average annual tax bill. Here are the projected tax savings, if villages dissolved:
Bloomfield: Current tax bill, $378; post-dissolution savings, $307
Rushville (Ontario County portion) Current, $520; post-dissolution savings, $520
Manchester: Current, $603; post-dissolution savings, $538
Shortsville: Current, $769; post-dissolution savings, $641
Clifton Springs: Current, $842; post-dissolution savings, $720
Naples: Current, $491; post-dissolution savings, $491
Phelps: Current, $583; post-dissolution savings, $300
Victor: Current, $746; post-dissolution savings, $746
Source: Ontario County Values Inc.