Thursday October 11, 2012

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Wholesale dissolution of the village of Hoosick Falls would save an estimated $623,000 in combined costs, mostly police-related, and, depending on an incentive tax credit, residents townwide could see their local municipal tax bills drop.

If the village dissolved but the community elected to keep a local police department -- revised as a townwide force -- village residents would still see taxes drop, but town residents outside the former village would end up paying a little more.

Future of Hoosick Falls

Those two scenarios were among a continuum of options residents heard Wednesday for the future of Hoosick Falls, a village with an aging, declining population and shrinking tax base that elected last year to consider dissolution.

"Times are hard," said Mayor Matthew Monahan, who said the effect of any change, "no matter how small," would be to help revitalize Hoosick Falls by putting money back into the community’s hands. "Infusing money back into the community. ... That’s the biggest impact of any of the changes (we make)," Monahan said. But change is hard, he acknowledged, and Wednesday provided only a glimpse of public feedback.

This week’s hearing was the first of three as part of the study that began in May with assistance from the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research (CGR), a non-profit research and consulting agency for businesses and government.

The village was incorporated in 1827 and dissolution would require approval from village residents by referendum. "There’s not going to be a large structural change without a lot of input," said Paul A. Bishop, the lead associate from CGR who presented Wednesday’s options report.

Without dissolving, increased shared services between town and village was presented as a third option potentially cutting costs, "not a dramatic savings," Bishop said, mostly between the two highway departments.

Under a dissolution scenario, the town would need to create special districts to continue services currently provided by the village including water, sewer, and garbage pickup. The town would take on clerk and highway services from the village as well as any outstanding debt (mostly retiree benefits), and law enforcement would become the primary responsibility of the Rensselaer County Sheriff’s Office and state police.

A village resident could see their tax bill drop $531 on a $100,000 home under dissolution. The tax implications on town residents outside the village would be smaller, and related to additional services the town would begin to provide.

If the village dissolved but the town created a local police force, the town would incur those costs, currently pegged at $390,000. "Any change is going to be based on a change of service," Bishop said, speaking of the potential for that number to shift. Savings would come from eliminating redundancies in salaried department heads and elected officials and clerical, payroll, and court staff.

The effect on village and town tax bills would depend on the route of dissolution or shared services, with an additional factor being a Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit (CETC), a state incentive payment for reorganization that would lower tax bills if awarded.

The state is currently seeking consolidation, "so they’re going to bribe you to do that." Bishop said the incentive would equal 15 percent of the combined tax levy, or $336,343 a year. "That money comes to this community according to the New York State Legislature forever," he said, acknowledging some skepticism.

There are 6,924 residents of the town of Hoosick, nearly equally divided between the village and surrounding town. The area outside the village accounts for about 65 percent of the community’s taxable assessed value.

None of the changes considered would affect county, school, library or fire taxes, which together account for a majority of residents’ tax bills. The changes would also not affect repayment on water and sewer bonds.

A second hearing is scheduled for next week, Oct. 18, at 6 p.m. at the senior center for the specific purpose of receiving public comment. A final report will then be compiled for consideration by village trustees, who would have to decide to put consolidation to a vote.

The study was prepared with funds provided through the state Local Government Efficiency Grant program. A steering committee of town and village officials and residents led the study jointly with Bishop, who said the LGE grant program had resulted in eight dissolutions to date around the state.

All study materials as well as a property tax calculator are available online at www.cgr.org/hoosick.