By Kellen M. Quigley
The Great Valley Town Board continued talks on how to handle the 20 percent increase town residents recently found in their tax bills.
At Monday night’s meeting, the board further discussed two possible solutions first brought up at a special meeting last month: either issuing local tax rebates this summer or decreasing town taxes next winter.
The board scheduled a special meeting for March 5 to make a final decision and get the approved plan underway.
Daniel Martonis, director of the Cattaraugus County Office of Real Property Tax Services, and Andrew Toth and Andrew Moon, accountants from Tronconi, Segarra and Associates, attended the meeting to answer any questions either the board or public had.
“I know what I think I want to do,” said Town Supervisor Daniel Brown. “I’d have to hear other ideas, whether it be from (Martonis, Toth or Moon) to change my mind. But I want to know what the board wants to do.”
Instead of using an estimate county officials were developing for the county budget in 2017 — about $490,000 — the town underestimated the amount of local sales tax that would be available, using about $75,000 to reduce the town tax levy.
While town taxes decreased slightly, residents’ county tax bills rose sharply. The increase on a $100,000 property was up to $300.
The increase in county taxes was supposed to mirror a decrease in the town tax levy as the town chose to apply its share of county sales taxes to the town taxes instead of the county tax levy. Twenty-nine other towns do it that way.
It was the first year the town had decided to take the sales tax in cash. The intent was to decrease town taxes while allowing county taxes to increase by a similar amount.
Board member Gerald Musall said he thinks the board led the public to believe the town would pursue the rebates. He said he knew it wouldn’t be a quick or easy fix, but he would like to stick with it.
“I don’t want to play this game of waiting until the end of the year with getting people back their money they’ve overpaid,” he said. “I just want to get it back to them.”
Board member Sandra Goode said she thinks there are still a lot of unknowns the board should look at before making a final decision, including the specifics of what issuing the checks would involve as well as cost.
“I think the process that we’re in right now is to evaluate the different paths that we have,” board member Becky Kruszynski added. “With the scope going forward, evaluate just what it’s going to cost us, what all does it entail, how much additional work and when or if they’ll be able to be reimbursed or rebated.”
Martonis said if the town decided to pursue the rebate option, residents would only receive back a percentage of what they overpaid because about 17 percent had already been set aside to reduce the town tax levy. He said it would be nearly impossible to go back and find out exactly what each resident would have paid if the town had made a different decision.
“I was looking at the one time the state did this before … and they figure out it was like 63 percent, because they didn’t want to go overboard,” Martonis said. In order to give a certain percentage rebate, a law would have to be approved by the state.
Brown said he thinks the town should look at fixing it by reducing the incoming tax bills this year and have residents pay substantially lower taxes next year. He said he’s talked to over 30 Great Valley residents and most of them said they’d prefer lower taxes next year.
“It’s going to cost money to give money back, and it’s only going to be a percentage of that refund anyway,” Brown said. “If we fix this with our incoming tax bill, then our town tax rate could go to near-zero.”
When residents in attendance at the meeting were asked what they thought, two said they’d prefer the rebates in the summer and three said they’d prefer the lower taxes next year.
A special meeting of the Great Valley Town Board is scheduled for Monday, March 5 at 7 p.m. at the town hall to make a final decision on what to do.