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Local Governments to Focus on Infrastructure, Long Term Financial Stability in 2014

By Jann Wiswall

Several long-term projects and a focus on financial stability will be a major focus of the area’s local governments in 2014.

DOT Improvements

A huge project for both the Town and Village of Ellicottville and the Town of Mansfield is being done courtesy of the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). The three-part project includes: installing sidewalks and making drainage improvements along Route 242 from HoliMont all the way into the village; improving the intersection at Elizabeth Street/Fillmore Street/Route 219 and; rebuilding the wheelchair ramps and curbs at five intersections in the village along Washington Street.

The sidewalk project originally was proposed by HoliMont and Ellicottville leaders as far back as 2006. After it agreed to undertake the project, the DOT included the other two projects in order to improve safety for vehicular and pedestrian traffic alike.

Meanwhile, municipal leaders are focusing other resources on additional infrastructure projects throughout the area.

Town of Ellicottville

In the Town of Ellicottville, Supervisor John Burrell expects to complete renovations of the Town Center building at Fillmore Drive and Parkside Road. The building, formerly known as the Cornell Cooperative Extension Service building, now houses the town and village courts. It also houses offices for Extension Service staff and additional leased office space. Final renovations to its auditorium are nearing completion and a patio leading to the Nannen Arboretum will be installed as soon as weather permits. The auditorium and patio is available for lease for weddings, meetings and other special events.

Burrell also expects to invest in upgrading and/or replacing some highway department vehicles in 2014 in order to ensure that town roads are kept in good shape year round. In addition, the multi-year East Tank Project should be completed in 2014. If all goes smoothly, the new water tank will be erected and filled in time to allow the village to begin repairs at its reservoir.

Burrell said he will be working with the town board this year to develop a new five-year plan for capital projects that may be necessary in the future.

“We need to gradually build up reserves to avoid bonding projects and increasing taxes,” he said.

Village of Ellicottville

In the Village of Ellicottville, Mayor Charlie Coolidge expects to invest in new public works department vehicles to “keep the streets and sidewalks in good shape for visitors, business owners and residents.” He also will be proposing a balanced 2014-15 budget with no increase in taxes.

Coolidge says that 2014 is the year the village needs to start looking at bonding to pay for the next phase of village-wide repairs and improvements to the water and sewer system. The first payment for this phase of the project, which was mandated by the state, will be due in 2016, which is when a current bond held by the village will be paid off. Coolidge expects that the cost of the second bond roughly equals the cost of the first, so that there is no need to raise taxes.

“One should balance out the other,” he said.

Another priority for the village, said Coolidge, will be to work with the Ellicottville/Great Valley Trail Committee to build support for the portion of the proposed trail that would go through the village.

Town of Great Valley

The Town of Great Valley has been working over the past year to address a number of issues related to inadequate property maintenance by homeowners. Supervisor Dan Brown and the board have been discussing changes to local zoning laws and establishing penalties to encourage homeowners to follow those laws. More news on this topic is expected soon.

Town of Mansfield

The Town of Mansfield still has some work to do before it fully recovers from the 2012 fire that destroyed its highway department barn and vehicles. While a new barn was completed in 2013 and most vehicles have been replaced, the insurance settlement is not yet final. Supervisor Bob Keis expects that process to be done soon after one last replacement truck is delivered.

While Mansfield was able to replace most of the building and equipment using insurance funds received, it was also necessary to borrow $200,000 and use most of what was in the town’s surplus fund. Keis said he will work with the board to rebuild the surplus over the next several years.

“Fortunately, taxpayers weren’t hit with an increase, but that was because there was a surplus to work with,” he said. “We want to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

Keis also said that the town will be looking for ways to boost funding for highway maintenance — the town’s single biggest expense and most important function. Keis expects that property tax revenues generated by new development, especially at HoliMont’s WestMont Ridge development, should help meet this goal.

Ellicottville Central Schools

Ellicottville Central Schools (ECS) is making a big infrastructure change this year — a major renovation and rehabilitation of the facility. Architectural, engineering and budget plans currently are being reviewed by the State Education Department. The state’s review process should be completed by April or early May. Construction should start in June and it is expected to take approximately 18 months to complete the project.

Plans call for electrical, masonry, ventilation, accessibility and security improvements, partial roof replacement and a 100’ x 50’ addition to the back of the existing gymnasium in order to create a multi-purpose athletic and performance space that will be used for sporting events, concerts, graduations, testing, large-group instruction, distance learning and more. The ECS staff is busy locating alternative spaces to hold these activities while construction is under way.

In addition to the construction project and all its ramifications, school is, of course, in session. Staff and the board will continue to do everything needed to implement the Common Core curriculum and APPR process, which Superintendent Mark Ward expects to go more smoothly with a year under students’ and staff members’ belts. Over the next several months, the board also will be working on the 2014-15 budget, which is always a challenge given the cost of doing business continues to increase and state revenues continue to decline.

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