As we close out the calendar for 2016 I want to take this opportunity to bring you up to date on the progress the Board is making to improve our Village finances.
The Clerk/Treasurers office has made strides on the delinquent audits, which are now complete through the fiscal year 2103/2014 and accepted by the NYS Comptroller’s office. We anticipate that the remaining audits for fiscal years 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 may be completed and filed with Comptroller by mid-spring. As you know it has not been an easy task getting the records to the point where we can file correct and accurate reports that the State will accept. But we are getting there.
We continue to work on the sewer rates EDU billing process and how to lessen the unequal impact this process has caused for some homeowners. As you know we cannot bill on water consumption data because the State will not allow us to collect the information. We have had public meetings and publications clarifying the billing units, applying for relief where it can legally be done and we are actively looking for ways to bring outside revenues into the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP – aka Sewer Plant) to offset the WWTP operating costs, which in turn means lower billings for you. We are continually looking for ways to ease the tax burdens; provide the services we can afford and explore opportunities to best provide them.
Recently the New York State Department of State (NYSDOS) offered such an opportunity via a large grant to the Village to explore the Consolidation of our Police Department with the Tioga County Sherriff. The grant is posted on the Village website and you will note within the “Consolidation Grant” that it would benefit both the Village budget and our Police officers. Current officers would get increases in salary and pay grades and benefits and more avenues for career advancements. They would be able to continue to police the village and to remain in the PBA. They would also get a cash benefit to ease the transition. This seems like a win-win for a financially strapped municipality such as ours and for the police officers. The preliminary details were recently being worked through so the Consolidation Grant could be presented to Villagers. Unfortunately the PBA notified us recently that they would not even consider the Consolidation effort.
The Village Board and Departments are currently preparing for the 2016/2017 budget, which includes mandated health and retirement benefits for our personnel, and health insurance growth alone is staggering. If the PBA’s officers will not consider the Consolidation Grant’s opportunities, and its benefits to them and the Village, then we are looking at a huge deficit to cover. Unlike the Sherriff’s budget, which is spread over a much larger tax pool, and which Village taxpayers are already paying into, our tax base is smaller, making tax increases difficult for many residents.
We believe the Consolidation Grant is an opportunity that should not be missed. If we do not consider an option such as this, the Board will be forced to implement either substantial tax increases, further reductions in services, or the dissolution of the Village entirely. We are already hearing from many Village taxpayers that our high tax rates have serious impact on our residents. It is also a serious roadblock to attracting new residents to settle in our Village.
We encourage you to go to the village website at www.villageofowego.com and review the Consolidation Grant documents for yourself. It is an important option for the Village.
I wish I could simply say we are finally out of the financial woods, but I cannot at this time, because we are not there yet. I can, however, tell you that your Board is and will continue to look at all options available to maintain the financial viability of our Village and to ensure that we continue to provide the necessary services we have all come to rely on.
Mayor Steve May
From the Editor: You can also view the police consolidation grant by clicking here.