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To villagers, tax level suits their services

About halfway down Kenton Road in the Town of Tonawanda are two houses almost directly across from each other that are similar in size, age and assessment.

The main difference between them is their 2010 tax bills. The owner of one paid $328.35 more in local taxes.

There's a simple reason why: That house is also in the Village of Kenmore, meaning the owner also pays village taxes.

It's not exactly a news flash: Village property owners often pay higher taxes than their town counterparts. People who support Kevin Gaughan's initiative to dissolve village governments regularly point to this fact to make their case.

But here's the part that frustrates dissolution advocates: Many village residents, the people who will decide this issue, just don't care.

That thread connects every group fighting Gaughan and his effort. Some of those groups are working on studies to determine whether they can quantify the added cost of living in a village. The group led by Chris Duquin in Williamsville already did one and calculated the cost at about $170.

The news was greeted with a collective yawn from many in Williamsville. A subsequent poll found that 75 percent want to keep the village, and of those, almost 90 percent said nothing could change their mind. Duquin said he understands why.

"Village government is the only place that I pay taxes and I see exactly what I get for the [money] I spend," he said. "In most situations when I see what I am getting and I appreciate it, I am willing to spend a little more. I think that is the case in the village."

Kenmore is not one of the villages targeted in Gaughan's first wave of dissolution efforts, but Melissa Foster will be ready for him when he comes. She founded the Kenmore Village Improvement Society, which also is planning a study of what village residents get for their tax dollars.

I asked her about the two houses on Kenton. I wondered what she would say to the owner on one side of the street who pays almost $330 more a year in local taxes for the same services as the people across the street.

"I don't think it is the same service," she replied.

Referring to the village Police Department as one example, she said: "I think it may look like the same service on paper, but I know that the town police patrol is not exactly what our patrol is. It's not to say that the town police are not doing their job. It's to say that we do the job better here. We have more police [in] a smaller area to patrol. Why would we want to give that up?"

To save money?

"At the end of the day," she said in a familiar refrain, "it doesn't really matter if the taxes are higher to most people who live here."

In the interest of full disclosure, I proudly admit that I was born and raised in the Town of Tonawanda. Complaints about government-delivered service there are almost as rare as stories about people getting away with driving 15 mph over the speed limit on Sheridan Drive. When Buffalo residents are calling radio shows to complain about how snow-clogged their street is, Town of Tonawanda residents are wondering why the plow just went down their block for the third time that morning.

Kenmore's reputation is the same. But the fact that anyone in the village would worry that the service would suffer if they had to make do with the Tonawanda Police and Highway departments speaks to just how much residents are willing to fight to keep their own services.

A tax bill says what those services cost. Only the voters will say how much they are worth.


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