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Orchard Park officials oppose Cuomo’s budget

Orchard Park town and village officials met this week to talk about their united opposition to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget and what they consider to be its rigid municipal consolidation proposals.

Their consensus: Get the word out about why the governor has unfairly attacked towns and villages.

“He is starving us,” said Orchard Park Mayor John Wilson.

Cuomo’s proposal, set to be voted on next month in Albany, pressures municipalities to keep spending and taxes low.

Under the first year of the plan, rebates would go to homeowners in municipalities that stay within the 2 percent tax cap. For rebates to continue the next year, municipalities would have to submit a plan outlining savings from shared services. Cuomo asks for increasing savings for three consecutive years – from 1 percent to 2 percent to 3 percent off the tax levy.

Orchard Park officials, who are proud of their current efficiencies, say they fear such severe requirements would put their village out of business.

“Forcing financial distress. That’s what he’s doing,” said Joseph Wales, a village trustee.

One point of focus at the workshop meeting was that while tax caps limit revenues, state mandates for contributions to things like the state pension fund can go higher than the money raised under the cap.

These moves can obscure state responsibility for high property taxes, said Councilman Michael Sherry.

“It’s like a shell game,” he said. “He’s doing a sleight of hand here.”

Cuomo defends the proposal by saying that the state’s unusually high number of local governments, a combination of municipalities and special districts, holds great potential for cutting spending and taxes.

“So what we’re doing there is creating permanent efficiencies,” said Morris Peters, spokesman for the state Division of Budget, speaking by phone Friday. “Tons of opportunities for shared services, working together. Tons of savings to be had.”

Orchard Park officials say the state’s broad approach doesn’t factor in their unique situation: They have long worked to pare costs, sharing police, a school district, a fire district and a town hall.

“There is no acknowledging for services and so forth that are already shared,” Sherry said.

Sherry offered the most vivid analogy.

He said the governor’s proposal had him imagining a political cartoon with the state as a dump truck being driven by Cuomo who was using it to pin local governments against a wall instead of putting on the brakes himself.