Written by Carol Frank Friday, 23 October 2009 00:00
Do you know that your village could be dissolved by a countywide vote? Or that your village could be compelled to initiate an expensive plan for consolidation or dissolution triggered by a small percentage of residents signing a petition? Or that your water district could be forced to consolidate with another water district, again by a countywide vote of people who have never paid one cent into supporting your district’s necessary infrastructure for producing clean water?
With the aim of educating the public about the consequences of allowing the law, “The N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act” to go into effect in March of 2010, un-amended, a rally will be held on Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Great Neck South High School. The Great Neck Village Officials Association, the Great Neck Park District and the Long Island Special Districts Association are sponsoring the event. Although the meeting is being held in Great Neck, it is open to all residents in Nassau County.
The president of the Village Officials Association, Leonard Samansky, the mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock, stated, “The law in my opinion is unconstitutional because it gives the county the right to dissolve a village or district by a countywide vote thereby taking away the local jurisdiction’s right to vote.”
Ruth Tamarin, commissioner of the Great Neck Park District said, “It was pushed through the legislature by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo without sufficient time to debate or amend it and with little opportunity for citizen input. Though both Senator Craig Johnson and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel voted against the bill and tried their best to educate their fellow legislators about the unintended consequences of the bill, it was rammed through by powerful interests.”
Mayor Samansky adds, “ We are under attack by the State of New York and the Nassau County government. Certain elected officials want to take away our right to vote, our Home Rule and our residents’ receipt of direct and efficient services. These people who represent a state and county which have little to no funds, want our money. There is not to my knowledge any village or district which is not solvent.”
There was always a way to dissolve or consolidate local governments. Prior to the passage of the legislation, New York State law required that 33 percent of the residents of a locality could, by signing a petition, trigger a referendum on consolidation or dissolution. The new law lowers the threshold to 10 percent of the residents. Further unlike the old law, paid people, living outside the jurisdiction, can circulate the petition.
At the time of the vote in June, Senator Craig Johnson stated, “The measure’s language also allows an open ended petition process – meaning that a petition drive could start now and last 10 years in order to get the required number of signatures,” he added. “There is no provision to include towns in the process, and if a local government is abolished, it is unclear which entity would assume zoning authority and other powers — as counties do not provide many local functions.”
Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel stated before she cast her vote in June, “My apprehension of the bill in its present form is because of the low threshold requirement of signatures for petitions to initiate a consolidation or dissolving of a local government or district. In addition, I am concerned about top down decision-making of the state on matters of local government. Because of my apprehension and my strong support for the village mayors and trustees, commissioners, volunteer firefighters and civic activists I have no choice but to cast a ‘no’ vote.”
Many local officials watched the votes being cast in live time back in June and it was significant to notice that most legislators, before casting votes, commented that they knew the bill needed to be amended before going into effect.
The legislation was touted as a vehicle to save money and lower property taxes. However, voters would be expected to vote on consolidation or dissolution without knowing the specifics and the ramifications of such an action because the required “plan” would only be developed after the vote was taken. In other words, a vote would be required before an analysis of whether or not money would actually be saved by consolidation or dissolution could be made public.
Ms. Tamarin concluded, “The sponsors are urging all residents to come to this important meeting. Your input is urgently needed to discuss these amendments and how to make sure we are heard in Albany.” Mayor Samansky said, “At the time of the vote, many senators stated that they knew the law would need amendments…We need to make sure that happens.”
Great Neck South High School is located at 341 Lakeville Road.