Written by Joe Rizza Friday, 24 July 2009 00:00
Now that the government consolidation bill has been signed into law by Governor David Paterson, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has set up a website with instructions for citizens on how to go about dissolving or consolidating governments. The website, reformnygov.com, includes the method by which citizens of a government can dissolve that government through a petition and referendum vote. The site even contains sample petitions that can be downloaded.
The spirit of the law is to relieve some of the tax burden on New Yorkers by eliminating some levels of government, although some would argue that eliminating some levels of government would not save taxpayers money.
Residents of a town, village or special district can dissolve that town, village or special district, such as a sanitation, water district or fire district, by collecting signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in that government or 5,000 signatures (whichever is less). A referendum will then be held by the residents of the government (town, village, special district) to determine whether it should be dissolved. A simple majority in favor of dissolution would force the government to formulate a plan within 210 days after the referendum to transfer the services to another municipality.
Counties also have the authority to merge or dissolve governmental agencies by passing a local law on the dissolution of a governmental agency and a countywide referendum.
“This bill is a major step forward in our efforts to cut waste, lower the cost of doing business, and reduce our property taxes,” said Governor Paterson. “Our system of local government is outdated and overly complicated, and today we are making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local government entities. This legislation represents real reform, and will result in bottom-line savings for taxpayers.”
Residents in unincorporated areas of towns such as residents of Elmont, Franklin Square and West Hempstead find themselves not only paying school, county and town taxes but also taxes for special districts such as sanitary, water and fire districts.
“After 75 years of failed efforts at reform, every New Yorker can now take advantage of a powerful new tool to help cut government waste and slash the highest local taxes in the nation,” said Cuomo. “This law is all about empowering taxpayers and ushering in a new era of efficient governing and public involvement across the state.”
Politicians in the Manhasset area have all come out against the consolidation plans.
Both Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel and state Senator Craig Johnson opposed the bill. Johnson, in fact, was the only Senate Democrat to oppose the legislation.
Village of Flower Hill Mayor Charles Weiss has lambasted Attorney General Cuomo for “entering the game” without “any facts to support” such a position.
“If he (Cuomo) had done his homework, he would have learned that many experts dispute the notion that eliminating or consolidating villages would produce substantial cost savings,” Mayor Weiss added.
Plandome Manor Mayor Barbara Donno commented, “There has been little proof that dissolving villages would lead to greater efficiencies; in fact the research shows otherwise. Villages were incorporated to create a local government that is responsive and accountable to its residents and represent a mere 2 percent of New York’s total property tax burden. This year Plandome Manor had a zero percent tax increase without cutting services, yet Nassau County increased taxes even though there were major cuts in services. Following the recent events in the NY State Senate, perhaps Attorney General Cuomo should focus on reform from the top down.”
Plandome Heights Mayor Diana Merenda agrees, stating, “Although Albany’s legislation may be well intended, the criteria for implementation are fraught with unfortunate and misguided oversights. For Plandome Heights, this legislation would allow a mere 79 people (10 percent of registered voters) to force the village to spend thousands of unbudgeted and unfunded tax dollars to engage a consultant to create a study, draft a proposal and hold a special referendum. The voters would surely come out and roundly reject the proposed dissolution but meantime the village would have been forced into an unfunded mandate.” Merenda continued, “Previously, 33 percent was the requisite change threshold, and that was reasonable and rational. It better ensured that a matter as solemn as village dissolution would not be the result of frivolity or vendetta or the sufferance from a ‘tyrannical few.’”
“Put simply,” she concluded, “the resultant change from dissolution does not guarantee better efficiencies by any standard. An unfunded mandate is unnecessary for VPH to decide to change its form of government. With 80 years of self-governance, we can do that analysis on our own, without any ‘help’ from Albany.”
Other local mayors believe that residents are best served on the village level. “They’re selling this thing as a bill to create smaller government when, in effect, what it does is create larger, less responsive government,” said Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins.
Services that any special district that is dissolved provide would have to be absorbed by another governmental agency. This could get tricky in the case of fire districts that, in Nassau County, are comprised of volunteers from the communities they serve. Many volunteers serve their communities as a matter of pride and may be unwilling to serve other communities on a volunteer basis if a fire district was to be dissolved.
The law does not empower citizens to dissolve counties or school districts.
Pat Grace contributed to this article.