By Rick Miller
Barring passage of special state legislation allowing the Great Valley Town Board to correct a town budget error, it appears taxpayers are stuck with a steep increase in 2018 county taxes.
More than 50 taxpayers attended Monday’s Town Board Reorganization Meeting at the Great Valley Town Hall where Supervisor Daniel Brown apologized for the error that occurred when the town applied much less sales tax to the town tax levy than was available. About $490,000 in sales was available, but only about $75,000 was applied to the town tax levy.
Meanwhile, none of the nearly $500,000 in sales tax revenue was applied to county taxes.
“It was woefully low,” Brown told the residents. “We could have used a much bigger amount. There are a couple of different avenues to try to correct it.”
The town board had intended to apply the sales tax revenue to the town tax levy, thinking the town tax would decrease at the same rate the county tax would increase.
The town previously had the county apply its share of the county sales tax toward county taxes in the town of Great Valley.
Daniel Martonis, director of the Cattaraaugus County Office of Real Property Tax Services, said the wrong number was inserted into the budget.
“If it had been the same as the county budget, it would have been a wash,” he said. Town taxes would go down while county taxes went up buy the same amount.
“Unfortunately, I don’t see anything that happens before we start printing the tax bills,” Martonis said. Towns are supposed to get a letter each year about their next year’s sales tax estimate.
One resident, Hugh Dunne, blamed the supervisor and the town board. He said his taxes went up by $600. When Dunne suggested two town trucks had been purchased with the sales tax money, Brown replied, “Those two trucks had zero impact on this budget.”
One man in the audience said, “I just want to know how you will fix this.”
Brown said, “There’s no easy way. The best option is to ask the State Legislature to pass a special law to let the town redo the budget.”
Town attorney Peter J. Sorgi said he and town officials plan to speak with State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda, in the next few days to see if a special law can be passed.
By redoing the budget, residents with tax bills $300 to $500 more than the 2017 tax bill could get a rebate from the sales tax that wasn’t applied to the town tax bills, Sorgi said. If that does not work out, next years town taxes will be substantially less. It won’t be an issue in the future, he said.
Matonis said in response to a question that the error may mess up escrow accounts.
A woman standing at the back of the packed town hall courtroom said that seniors on a fixed income don’t have the extra $500 or $600 to pay their taxes.
“We’re screwed,” she said.
A man in the audience asked if the board “is committed to resolving this problem next year.” He was told that everyone should see a savings next year equal to the increase.
Brown called a special meeting for Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. at the town hall to bring residents up to date on the situation before the end of the month when town and county taxes are due. If people pay their taxes late, a fee and interest is added.
“I’m sorry this happened,” Brown said. “We used numbers we thought were safe. I’m the supervisor. I’ll take the blame. We were advised to take the sales tax.”
Councilman Gerald Musall said in hindsight, he should have questioned the estimated sales tax numbers.
“As a board, we were all responsible. I was just as ignorant as Dan,” he added.
Musall said he would like to see taxpayers get rebates this year. “It’s going to be tight as hell, but I would hope we’d have enough to give everybody a rebate.”