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Brockport village receives SUNY grant

by Shelby Toth - News Editor
Tue, Oct 30th 2018 10:00 pm

The College at Brockport presents a unique problem for the village it’s located in. Since the village of Brockport is so small, the college takes up a majority of the land making up the area. In fact, according to Brockport Village Mayor Margaret Blackman, the assessed value of the college is 65 percent of the assessment of the village. Because SUNY colleges are tax-exempt, having the college located in the village creates a huge tax burden for those residing in the village.

“We have other tax exempt properties, like churches, but The College at Brockport is the big one,” Blackman said. “Our tax rate last year was [about] $11. We ran the figures to see what the tax rate would be if SUNY property were assessed and they had to pay property tax. It would lower that tax down to $4.30 per thousand.”

While this problem isn’t common for most towns and villages, other SUNY municipalities also face similar tax issues. That’s why Senator James Seward sponsored the SUNY Impact Aid initiative, also known as Bill S3967. 

According to nysenate.gov, the bill was created in order to “provide state aid to municipalities to offset the costs and expenses of providing public safety services that are necessary as a result of the presence of a residential institution located in such municipality.” The money that would be provided to towns and villages was intended to go to the costs of fire departments, police and code enforcers.

The bill sat in the senate for multiple legislative sessions before Seward was able to obtain a pilot program, Blackman explained. The pilot program was given to Cortland and Oneonta, with both receiving $200,000 during the first year of their program, according to nysenate.gov. The bill remained unpassed, despite large support.

“What I did was I authored a letter on behalf of all the SUNY institutions and we got the mayors of 10 different SUNY’s to sign this letter, and it went out to every state legislator - that was two years ago - in hopes of getting this bill passed,” Blackman said. “And it didn’t happen.”

So Blackman decided to change her approach. Instead of focusing on getting the bill passed, she decided to try and push for Brockport to become the next municipality to become a part of the pilot program.

After receiving advice from Seward himself to focus on how Brockport could potentially use the money, Blackman, with the help of others, prepared a packet to present, explaining why Brockport deserved to receive the pilot program. The packet discussed what the village would do with the money in terms of police and code enforcement, as well as information on the now Brockport-infamous “Delt” house, and the gruesome hazing that took place there, as well as a letter from President of the college Heidi Macpherson.

“I met with Mayor Blackman and New York State Senator Robert Ortt in early 2018 to discuss the SUNY Impact Aid initiative,” Macpherson wrote in an email. “Other SUNY communities, such as Cortland, had piloted this program and we advocated for Brockport to be included in the next round of funding.”

Blackman’s push worked and Brockport recieved aid. In fact, the village received the full amount they requested, $210,000. Eight other colleges also recieved aid, though no other college got as much as Brockport, according to Blackman.

Now that the village has gotten the money requested, it will go directly to police and code enforcement. According to village of Brockport Treasurer Daniel Hendricks, $100,000 of the money will go to the police department and $110,000 will go to code enforcement.

Blackman explained what exactly both groups will do with said money. 

“What we proposed for police was an increase in community policing that is more interaction with university police, more cooperation with them, collaboration with them, and more getting our guys out of the cars, walking on their beats, going into neighborhoods, and so forth,” Blackman said. “...With codes, the plan was to hire a second code enforcement officer, because we have a lot of rental properties in the village, and so many of them are student rentals. I think about 54 percent of our residential properties in the village are rentals.”

For those hoping that this money would go directly into helping cut taxes, though, might be left disappointed. The money will not cause a direct lowering of taxes in the village. However, it does allow the village room to do things that couldn’t have otherwise.

“It’s not going to directly lower the tax rate, and that was the whole idea,” Blackman said. “Someone said ‘well take that $210,000 and use it to pay down the tax rate,’ but it wouldn’t lower it very much anyway, and that’s not what we’re supposed to do. It’s supposed to provide services.”

The service stressed the most was that of increased community policing. The safety that an increase in police presence can provide is indisputable, and will also increase visibility of the police department.

“[The aid] will allow for Brockport Police Department officers to be more visible and to educate the community on the roles and responsibilities of the police, including how village residents and law enforcement officials can better partner for a safer community,” wrote Macpherson.

The increased funding of police will help them to provide new unique services as well as continuing services that other villages might not receive. Hendricks explained one service that Brockport police offer, that if you were to go on a vacation for example, or be away from your house in Brockport for an extended period, you are able to call and have an officer conduct a door check for you.

Besides the safety provided by community policing, an additional code enforcement officer will also help to create a secure community. Blackman explained that code enforcement helps with the keeping up of property and an increase in the quality of life of the village, as well as protecting students from potentially greedy landlords.

“Both [police and code enforcement] have to do with public safety and it’s about making living conditions for students safer,” Blackman said. “For example, we had a case of a house on College St. where the landlord had rented out third floor bedrooms to four students. He couldn’t do that, he didn’t have a certificate of occupancy [from the code inspector].”

While the villagers and business owners of Brockport might not see huge breaks in their taxes any time soon, they can be assured that the local government is making strides to ensure the safety and betterment of the community as a whole.