Medina village officials look for ways to cut taxes

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – Jonathan Higgins, a captain with the Medina Fire Department, was on the scene at a fire on Friday in Carlton. Higgins wants the village to pursue a federal grant that would add personnel for fire and ambulance calls. But the Village Board worries if there are enough ambulance revenues to pay for staff when the grant runs out.

MEDINA The Medina Village Board says it will leave no stone unturned as it looks for revenue to help offset property taxes. The board will also work to reduce costs in village operations.

Resident Betty Rogowski attended Monday’s Village Board meeting and wanted to know the next steps for the community after dissolution was rejected a week ago, 949 to 527. Rogowski said she pays $7,802 in taxes annually, and she wants some relief from the big tax bill.

Monday’s meeting was the first for the Village Board since the dissolution vote. Medina Mayor Andrew Meier pushed dissolution as a way to reduce the tax burden on village residents. A study on dissolution showed how the tax rate could drop by $6 per $1,000 of assessed property on villagers.

Meier said Medina will be hard pressed to come up with ways to reduce taxes in the village by a similar amount without dissolution. The village would need about $1 million in new revenue or cuts to make that kind of impact.

Village officials need to have a new budget approved by April 30. The 2014-15 budget took in $2,738,602 in taxes from village property owners for a $16.44 tax rate.
Meier sees trimming the budget as something the board has some control over.

“We will have to find cost reductions,” he said.

Assistance from the local towns, county and state are all outside village control, Meier said.

Trustee Mike Sidari said the other governments need to be asked for help.

“Let’s get the ball rolling and put some pressure on our elected officials,” Sidari said.

He wants the village to pursue more state aid and a bigger share of the sales tax revenue in the county.

Medina currently gets $38,811 in state Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. That is a paltry sum for a village of 6,065 people, Sidari said, especially when smaller-size cities get far more. Sherrill in Oneida County gets $372,689 in AIM funding for a city of 3,071 people, he noted.

Sidari said the village should craft an official resolution, seeking more state funding, and distribute it to other villages and towns in the county and region, trying to build a movement. The board tasked Village Attorney Matthew Brooks to write a formal resolution to be voted on soon in the future.

Meier said the board shouldn’t expect any more money from the state. The governor’s budget didn’t include any AIM increases. Meier doesn’t have much hope the state would respond to the villages.

“Any increase appears DOA (Dead On Arrival),” Meier said.

But he supports passing a formal resolution, stating the value of villages and why the state should provide them with fair AIM funding.

The county had a big year for sales tax revenue in 2014, increasing by 5.96 percent from $14,819,904 to $15,703,362. The county has frozen the share to local towns and villages since 2001 at $1,366,671. Resident Tim Elliott said now is good time to push for more sales tax because of the increase for the county and the fact that it is no longer paying for the county nursing home.

The village of Medina receives $159,586 of the local sales tax or about 1 percent. Meier estimated that 30 percent of the sales tax in the county is generated by businesses in the village or close to the village borders.

He said he has pressed for more of the local sales tax in recent years, but has always been rebuffed from the county leaders.

Sidari said the village should make it an issue and engage other towns and villages in the county in seeking more of the funding.

Prior to the dissolution vote, the leaders of the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway both said they had ideas for reducing village costs. Meier and the Village Board said they await concrete proposals from Skip Draper, town supervisor of Shelby, and Brian Napoli, the supervisor in Ridgeway.

In the meantime, the board will look closer at village operations, trying to reduce costs.

Medina Fire Department Captain Jonathan Higgins sees a federal grant for hiring four firefighters as a way to improve services in the community and reduce the local cost.

A federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant would cover firefighters’ salary, benefits and retirement contributions for two years, as long as Medina maintains its existing staffing levels of 13 full-time firefighters, Higgins said.

The village could count two existing temporary positions for the grant and add two more full-timers, Higgins said. The added staff would reduce overtime costs for the department, and ensure the department has manpower for all of its calls.

Meier has concerns about adding the staff, even if it is grant funded. The village would unlikely be able to afford the positions after two years based on ambulance revenues.

“I don’t think we should set ourselves up for a difficult decision in two to three years,” Meier said. “I don’t see our revenues to the point where we can sustain four more firefighters.”

The village is 58 percent of the way through its budget year and the fire department has 57 percent of the revenues, putting it slightly behind pace for $1,050,000 budgeted. If the department keeps up that pace, it would be about 2 percent off budget or a $20,000 difference.

The fire department on Nov. 1 raised the mileage reimbursement rate for ambulance calls from $20 to $30. With 34,000 miles a year on ambulance calls that change could generate $340,000 if fully realized. But Meier said Medicare rates, self pay and other uncollected revenue makes that a big question mark.

The board delayed the decision to pursue the grant until Feb. 9 when it could have a better sense of revenue projections for the future, and the impact of added staff on reducing overtime.

The board did vote on Monday to raise most ambulance fees by 3 percent and increase the out-of-district charge from $50 to $75 for each call. That charge doesn’t apply to western Orleans County, including the villages of Medina and Lyndonville, and towns of Yates, Shelby and Ridgeway. The charge would be added to bill for calls in central Orleans County, eastern Niagara and Genesee County.