Chatham mayor exits panel on office sharing concept

CHATHAM–Village Mayor Tom Curran has resigned from the joint committee of the Village and Town of Chatham on sharing space in the Tracy Memorial Village Hall. Town Supervisor Maria Lull told The Columbia Paper that she hoped Mayor Curran would rejoin so that committee. She said the idea of the two municipalities sharing the space is about “efficiencies and economics.”

The historic building on Main Street in the village is owned by the Village Board and houses village government offices, court and police. The Town Board rents the second floor for the Town Court and court offices.

The two municipalities formed the committee last spring to begin looking at ways to share the space. Supervisor Lull said at a committee meeting in May that the Town Board would stay in the current Town Hall two miles north of the village on Route 295 for the near future. She also said that there would need to be a feasibility study to look into both governments sharing the Tracy building.

In November the Town Board adopted a budget that included an increase in taxes on village residents as a result of changes in the highway fund. But the town Highway Department does not plow snow or do other work for the village.

The village, which straddles the boundary between the towns of Ghent and Chatham, has its own Highway Department, which maintains village streets and is paid for with village taxes.

Mayor Curran expressed his concerns with the added town taxes at a town budget hearing last month. He also said that no one on the Town Board reached out to him about the increase.

In his letter of resignation from the committee, Mayor Curran wrote, “After hearing a great deal of talk about having the town and village work together, it was quite distressing to hear that the Town Board chose to add more line items to the portion of the budget funded through taxes paid by village residents…. When the town budget gets to where the village is being taxed fairly by the town, I will be happy to resume work on that committee. I cannot in good conscience work together with the town when our village residents are being taxed unfairly.”

His letter concludes by saying, “If you are going to tax us for these budget items, please provide the appropriate services and equipment.”

In her letter for response to Mayor Curran’s resignation letter, Supervisor Lull wrote that the town faced a major deficit when the Town Board started budgeting for 2017 and that the board met with the town’s accounting firm, members of the Citizens Finance and Planning Committee, a labor consultant, budget officer and the heads of town departments.

She acknowledged that while for town residents outside the village, taxes will increase only a fraction (.168) of a cent for each $1,000 of assessed value, village property owners in the town will pay about 6 cents/thousand, which Ms. Lull said comes to an increase of $7.38 on a home with an average assessed value.

The supervisor wrote that based on the situation town was facing, “developing a prudent fiscal plan for the town under the tax cap has been quite an accomplishment.”

About a third of village residents live in the part of the village that lies within the Town of Chatham.

She also wrote that residents of the town, including those who live in the village, would receive a check from the state under the Property Tax Relief and Property Tax Freeze programs due to the town’s “approved efficiency plan to reduce the tax levy.”

Supervisor Lull said the board’s decision to increase village taxes was guided by the town’s accounting firm, Pattison, Koskey, Howe & Bucci, and that in the town-wide highway fund there is only funding for a $2,500 chainsaw and chainsaw parts.

In her statement Ms. Lull also addressed issues with the Tracy Memorial and the projects that are needed to renovate the building. She said that the town and village could work together to share the expenses on upkeep for the building.

“The slight tax increase for village residents should not be a reason to walk away from our responsibilities to the Tracy and to the taxpayers, there is too much to lose,” she wrote.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

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