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Editorial: Tenet Worth a Fight: The Right to Make Informed Decisions

When the so-called “Government Re-Organization and Citizen Empowerment Act” was passed last year by the New York State Legislature, many of the legislators who voted for it admitted, in their speeches on the floors of both houses, that it had serious flaws and would need to be amended. Our readers will remember that this is the legislation that makes it easier to dissolve or consolidate villages and special districts.

Our legislators, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and Senator Craig Johnson, were among those legislators who voted against passage of the act and now have filed bills to amend the more egregious components of the act, (S7238/A10432).

You might ask, “What’s wrong with making it easier to radically alter local governments if it saves money?” Ah. That is the snag. What if consolidating or dissolving does not save money? Citizens are asked to vote first before it is discovered whether consolidating or dissolving villages or special districts would actually provide savings.

Would you jump off a cliff and then, while sailing downward, look to see if you’re actually attached to a bungee cord?

The way the law is written now, if 10 percent of the “electors” of a village sign a petition calling for a dissolution referendum, a village must hold a vote on dissolution within 90 days. If the vote passes, the village must then authorize a study and develop a plan for dissolution in 180 days. If a study concludes that significant savings would not be realized, the plan would go into effect anyway unless 25 percent of the “electors” petition against the plan within 45 days.

It is much easier to set the process into motion than to turn the process around once the momentum has started…much like changing the course of the Queen Mary.

Schimel and Johnson’s amendments would ensure that residents would know the fiscal implications of consolidation or dissolution before being asked to vote. Their amendments would clarify who “electors” are. In the law as passed, there were contradictions about who would be eligible to vote.

Further, the current law allows residents of larger municipalities, such as counties, to vote to mandate consolidation of local governments. The amendments being offered would not allow the disenfranchisement of local voters who would be directly affected.

In order for citizens to be truly “empowered,” they must be informed and the amendments being sponsored by our legislators are to that end.

Your letters and emails of support for these amendments directed to the governor and the Assembly and Senate leaders will help our legislators in their fight to protect your right to make decisions based on facts, not empty promises.

- By Carol Frank