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Dissolving village raises issues of tax, electricity rates

Richard Hetzel, whose Tea Party passed the petition that has forced a vote March 21 on whether to dissolve the village and merge with the Town of Wellsville, said Sunday one of his goals has been met.

"We got the Village Board to pay attention," Hetzel told a public hearing on the issue in Wellsville High School auditorium.

Hetzel said he and other Tea Party members repeatedly approached the board seeking tax reductions.

"You ignored us, you put us off," he said, "That made us angry, and we passed the petition."

Sunday's hearing was the second to be held on the issue. Mayor Bradley Thompson offered an explanation of the effects he said the dissolution committee -- which has been working on the question for 18 months -- described as reasonable expectations.

They include a decrease in village taxes to $19.25 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, compared with the current $20.32 rate.

Thompson said the townwide property taxes, however, would rise from the current $7.63 per $1,000 to $19.25.

A bigger question, however, is whether village residents would continue to enjoy low power rates from their municipal electric company if the village is dissolved.

Dan Spitzer, the Rochester lawyer who advised the committee on whether the new town could keep the village's low electric power rate -- a New York State Power Authority allocation -- said planning on that is "risky."

Spitzer said that despite various legal opinions on either side of the question, no final answer could come "until you dissolve."

National Grid supplies power to the surrounding town at roughly three times the rate villagers pay.

Spitzer said that even if the authority transfers the power contract to the new entity, "the Town Board can raise the rates and use the surplus for town purposes."

He said the Town Board also could choose to cut the new townwide tax rate by charging more for electricity in the former village.

"No one knows what will happen [about power] if the village dissolves," he said. "You're moving into uncharted territory."

Preston L. Lucas of Wellsville, a proponent of dissolution, accused Thompson and the committee of "scaring the people" about the power uncertainty.

He cited several letters, dating back to 1997, that he said convince him the power allocation will stay with the community.

"Those are all [just] legal opinions. The only ones who can make that decision are a judge or jury," said Thompson, anticipating the possibility of a lawsuit over the power.

Spitzer said the question could make its way to the Court of Appeals.

Thompson said the village recently negotiated a contract that guarantees its favorable power rate through 2025.

Voters will decide on the question from noon to 9 p.m. March 21 at the village's sole polling place in Frank B. Church Post 2530, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Maple Avenue at Genesee Street.

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