ELLENVILLE – The village board unanimously approved a resolution in support of the county's application for the state Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, a $20 million grant competition established as a part of Governor Cuomo's mission to entice greater consolidation around the state.
In late February, county executive Mike Hein announced that Ulster's application was one of six to be approved during round one, netting the county $50,000 to be used for a preliminary study on the benefits of dissolving Ellenville. The village, mayor Jeff Kaplan said at a trustees meeting on Monday, would not be obligated to do anything by supporting the new resolution, but would send a message that it is interested in going forward and seeing what benefits would come from consolidating the village into the Town of Wawarsing.
It's an idea that's been bouncing around village hall since the 1960s. But whereas previous studies never went anywhere, Kaplan noted that the game changer this time was the size of the monetary carrot at the end of the state's big stick.
"Life in the village is too expensive. We're prepared to have a study done to see if there is a way to save significant tax dollars," Kaplan said, noting that would-be residents have passed by opportunities to purchase homes in the village because of the multiple levels of taxation involved. "If there's no assurance that there would be a police department or if there's no assurance that there would be a significant tax saving, this won't be moving forward."
Kaplan added that the study would give the village a framework to work from, and determine how big a stumbling block the village police department could be.
"Bottom line — if they don't make us happy, it's not going to happen," Kaplan added.
"We will interview every employee and village board and town board multiple times," said consultant Jonathan Drapkin of Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress, pointing out that the county has until June 28 to submit their application, after which there would be presentations by the six contenders before the state makes their decision, which should come by late summer or early fall with additional funding for further studies.
In other news, the board approved a law that terminates the village as an assessing unit, something most municipalities Ellenville's size did years ago.
Until recently, the mayor explained, the town and village assessments were unequal, but since the recent revaluation, they've been at 100 percent, making it possible for the village to adopt the town's tax roll. Nothing, Kaplan added, will change in regards to how the village tax bill is issued, just that the village would no longer be holding grievance days.
The first budget workshop for 2017-2018 has been scheduled for March 22 with an amount to be raised by taxes looking to top $3.4 million and a rate per thousand inching up from $23.17 per thousand to $23.65.
"It's 2.06%, however the state cap for the village is 1%," noted village manager, Joseph Stoeckeler, adding that the village could add to its cash flow by opting to refinance village hall.
Village treasurer Linda Polkoski added that the village has completed taxes for 2016 and much of 2017, with some delinquent tax payments coming in.
As for recent reports that the village had been listed by the state as being on a state comptroller's list of municipalities under "moderate fiscal stress," Kaplan said it was all the fault of an incorrectly filed financial report that misreported a reserve fund used to advance a village capital project.
"At the end of the day, we're really not in financial stress," he said to reporters last week. "They said to us is that it's too late to correct any forms."