Thursday, 04 June 2009 10:44
Marvin Natiss, mayor of the Village of North Hills, joined mayors from across Nassau County in blasting New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s local government consolidation plan. The Village of North Hills is a member of the Nassau County Village Officials Association (NCVOA), which is comprised of 64 incorporated villages in Nassau County representing nearly 450,000 residents.
On Monday evening, June 1, the bill was approved by the New York State Assembly. It has now been referred to the state senate.
“This proposed bill by the attorney general is nothing more than a ploy to generate media attention,” said Mayor Natiss. “Many believe New York State has too many levels of government. But the proliferation of the thousands of special taxing districts is the creation of the towns and cities and has nothing to do with villages.”
According to Mayor Natiss, Cuomo’s local government consolidation proposal would reduce from 33 percent to 10 percent the number of registered voters’ signatures necessary to force a village dissolution study and referendum. The Village of North Hills has 4,500 residents. Under Cuomo’s plan, if all were registered voters, 450 residents can compel the village to spend thousands of dollars to conduct a dissolution study and a public vote. If the vote is unsuccessful the first time, it can be revisited in three years. If it is successful, the village board would have to create a dissolution plan that would not be approved by village residents.
“Obviously, the attorney general is entering the game late and without the facts to support his position. If he had done his homework, he would have learned that many experts dispute the notion that eliminating or consolidating villages would produce substantial cost savings,” the mayor added.
Mayor Natiss cited a report prepared by Donald Boyd, a senior fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, at the request of the Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. In referring to village dissolutions, Mr. Boyd states in his report, “Tax increases in the town-outside-village area have been the norm in past village dissolutions” and that a village dissolution where urbanized village services have been provided “may result in the creation of multiple special assessment districts.” In other words, eliminating a single village opens the door for creating multiple new special taxing districts.
Mr. Boyd continued his opinion of village dissolution by quoting a researcher (Jered Carr 2004) and writing, “Simply put, the ability of consolidated government to produce benefits promised by its proponents has not been established.” He also writes, “Literature reviews have suggested that costs of merged governments are not necessarily lower than the costs of individual governments and can be higher” and “many studies found higher costs after consolidation due to ‘leveling up’ of salaries (i.e. paying all workers at the highest pay scale of the governments involved in a consolidation).”
“The experts all agree that villages are the most efficient form of local government,” added Mayor Natiss. “Villages already maximize efficiencies by sharing equipment, engaging in consortium bidding for products and services, providing intermunicipal assistance. As a result, North Hills has the lowest village tax rate of the 64 Nassau County villages. Our village tax is less than 1 percent of our total property taxes. The remaining 99 percent is for school and general town tax.
“The Village of North Hills was incorporated in 1929 because the residents wanted to create a community with a local government that is responsive and accountable. That is why people move to incorporated villages – because they desire a particular lifestyle. When it comes to delivering services to residents in a manner that is efficient and cost-effective, no level of government can match a village,” the mayor said.
“With all that is happening in our communities – loss of jobs and homes, and taxes going through the roof – it is time to send a strong message to Attorney General Cuomo and our state legislators. Stop wasting time and taxpayer monies drafting worthless legislation and start concentrating on the real issues – like keeping our state viable and concentrate on eliminating waste and inefficiency at the state level,” Mayor Natiss concluded.
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel has voted against the bill.
Schimel was, according to her office, a “lonely no vote” on the floor of the Assembly on the issue of Consolidation and Dissolution of local governments: villages, towns, special districts and fire districts.
Assemblywoman Schimel read the following statement on the floor of the Assembly Chamber before casting her vote:
“My goal as town clerk and now as a state representative is to empower people to love government and recognize all of the services and opportunities it affords to help all people, families and neighbors.
“I come from an Assembly District that is blessed with elected officials that truly love government and to that end work tirelessly on the ground for little compensation to ensure the safety, security and services for their communities in which they live.
“I am not opposed to the bill’s concept. If it does what it is intended to do —empower the grass roots to determine their own governmental destiny — then I say Godspeed.
“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.
“I hope I am wrong in my apprehension for the sake of my district.
“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,” Assemblywoman Schimel concluded.