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Cuomo opens "Pandora's box" with services proposal, Orchard Park leaders say

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has created a financial "Pandora's box" with a plan to require counties to devise ways to share government services as a way to cut expenses, Orchard Park town leaders said Wednesday night.

"Similar to the tax cap and tax freeze, the impending danger is hidden by the promise of relief from our oppressive property taxes," said Councilman Michael Sherry, adding that the proposal threatens local autonomy and control. "Non-residents will be able to determine, to some as yet to be determined extent, the kinds and levels of services we will receive."

Sherry and other Town Board members, as well as Orchard Park Village Mayor Jo Ann Litwin Clinton, delivered addresses on the state of the town and village.

The joint meeting of all the members of both boards could be Exhibit No. 1 on how local governments cooperate.

The two municipalities share the Orchard Park Municipal Center, where the meeting was held.

The governor has called for county executives to submit cost-savings plans to county legislators by Aug. 1. Under his proposal, if they do not act on the plan, it would go before voters in the fall.

Sherry said if a plan is not developed, local communities would not receive annual state aid.

"Gone is the enticement of a spoiled carrot, we will now be beaten into submission by a financial stick," Sherry said.

Richard Tobe, Cuomo's director of upstate revitalization, said Thursday that's not how the governor's proposal would work. He said Cuomo has proposed withholding $710 million in aid to all cities, towns and villages if the State Legislature does not approve a budget bill that would establish a process for local governments to draft shared services plans that their residents could vote upon.

But the governor has not threatened to withhold aid to municipalities that fail to submit consolidation plans to their county executives, county legislatures and to voters, Tobe said.

Town Supervisor Patrick Keem said the Town Board has never tired of pointing out inequities and shortcomings of the current tax cap. He said the board does not call for abolishing the cap, but for its improvement.

Still, he said the town has the lowest equalized tax rate of similar communities, and has achieved many of its goals, including developing a community activities center plan, which was approved by voters.

With Orchard Park being rated among the top communities to live in, according to several ratings, "overall it appears that Orchard Park is doing well in its efforts to afford our residents a good life," Keem said.

Litwin praised developments in the village in the past year, including a new solid waste contract for garbage totes, a grant for a new salt barn and evaluation of dying and diseased trees.

Councilman Eugene Majchrzak noted the improvements made in the last year, including the paving of 13 roads, new waterlines and the dredging and dam replacement at Green Lake.

One of the most satisfying outcomes of the discussion and eventual approval of the new community center at Brush Mountain was the civility in the debate, he said.

"Whether in favor or in opposition to the proposed center, noticeably absent from any public comments or private communications was any demagoguery or denigrating of individuals or positions," Majchrzak said.

Goals for the coming year include working on plans and prep work for the building of a community activities center at Brush Mountain Park, assessing and restructuring the town's youth services, establishing departmental goals and posting them on the town website, and assessing and developing charters for town committees.

This year's town address, called Building Community Well Being, is the fourth given by these three members of the Town Board.

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