Written by Joe Rizza and Jaime L. Tomeo Wednesday, 10 June 2009 10:44
A bill that would streamline the process for local governments, including villages, towns and special districts to be dissolved has passed overwhelmingly in the New York State Assembly and Senate. The mechanism would make it possible for villages like the Village of Farmingdale, which is 105 years old, to be dissolved.
The bill, entitled the “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act,” was unveiled by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
The bill is designed to give residents the power to dissolve local governments such as special districts, towns and villages. School districts are not included. Proponents view the act as a way to streamline governments in favor of a more cost-effective way of delivering services to residents.
“I commend the state Senate for taking action on such a critical issue and giving local communities the ability to reduce government overhead and cut property taxes,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “New York is now at an historic crossroads decades in the making. Taxpayers may soon be truly empowered to create long overdue efficiencies in local governments and special districts across our state. I thank the Governor for his support throughout the process and I look forward to this bill finally giving New York’s overburdened taxpayers the ability, where appropriate, to streamline their local governments and cut their property taxes.”
In part, the bill states that the filing of a petition containing the signatures of at least 10 percent of the electors or 5,000 electors (whichever is less) in each local government entity to be consolidated or dissolved triggers the citizen-initiated process.
Farmingdale Village Mayor George “Butch” Starkie said he sees two flaws in the bill, although he is not completely against it.
“It is an expensive proposition just to get it out there and then if it’s affirmative, how to get it out there,” he added. “Even 20 percent is better than 10, but I’ll live with it. Ultimately I want to know if the people want to continue with this form of government.”
The second issue Starkie said he sees with this is that the way the law is written, the vote would have to be held within 90 days after the submission of petitions.
“It should be put out to referendum by the next general election,” he said. “This way you get a decent turnout.”
The bill also authorizes counties to abolish, merge and consolidate multiple units of government by a county-wide referendum.
Assemblyman Joseph Saladino voted against the bill (#A8501) , which was approved by the Assembly on June 1 by a vote of 117 to 26. Days later, on June 3, the bill passed the Senate (#S5661) by a vote of 46 to 16. As of press time, the legislation was waiting for Governor David Paterson’s signature.
While Saladino said he supports consolidation efforts which are fair, well thoughtout and secure taxpayer relief, “the bill did not contain any language which would guarantee taxpayer savings.”
“A better solution would be to pass the Property Taxpayers Protection Act, which guarantees savings and drives a larger and more fair share of state aid to Long Island schools and municipalities,” Saladino added. “In short, to provide us our fair share.”
Saladino added that he hopes the state legislature will amend this legislation “to provide a plan which will guarantee real savings and protect municipalities…and provide quality services at a very affordable price.”
While the bill may be aimed at some special districts that have been viewed by critics to be inefficient and costly to taxpayers, the bill’s language also includes the ability to dissolve villages, which many believe are the most efficient forms of government.
The bill provides no provision for providing service if a government is dissolved. The Village of Farmingdale provides water, fire service, a zoning board, snow removal and parks to its residents.
The governmental consolidation bill merely states that “if a majority of the electorate in each entity votes in favor of consolidation or dissolution, then the entities’ governing body or bodies must meet and develop a proposed written plan to implement the voters’ decision, followed by the plan’s publication and public hearings.”
For more information about the New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act and to view an interactive map detailing special districts in New York State by county, visit www.oag.state.ny.us. For additional information, visit www.assembly.state.ny.us and search bill #A8501 or visit www.nysenate.gov and search bill #S5661.