Written by Joe Rizza and Wendy K. Kreitzman Friday, 17 July 2009 00:00Now 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 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 county-wide 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 “Our system of local government is outdated and overly complicated, and today we are making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local government entities.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.”
“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.”
However, some feel elected officials such as mayors of incorporated villages believe that residents are best served on the village level.
Great Neck Village Officials Association President J. Leonard Samansky, mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock, offered the following statement to the Great Neck Record: “The New York State attorney general, our chief law enforcement officer, is now promoting the usage of the newly signed local government consolidation and dissolution law. Not only is the law not in effect and will not be for many months, it was agreed by all New York State senators who spoke during the debate on the bill that it required amendments to cure certain defects in the proposed law. Why is he wasting our money on a website that creates confusion and has, at this time, no substantive value? It appears to me that the attorney general ought to be spending his valuable time enforcing our laws and investigating corruption within the state. Instead the attorney general has joined the ranks of our state legislators in the senate who are totally dysfunctional. Instead of promoting waste, the attorney general and the state senate should turn their attention to the ‘Peoples Business,’ the deficit ridden state financial condition, and looking to themselves to resolve serious economic conditions affecting all of the citizens of the state. The problem, Mr. Attorney General Cuomo, is not our local governments who are healthy and solvent, rather it is all of you in your lofty offices in Albany who only know how to point fingers at the most efficient forms of government in the state, our villages and districts.”
Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman, GNVOA vice president, stated the following: “Attorney General Cuomo’s new website promoting his sponsored local government consolidation bill is just another example of misguided big governments asserting themselves when they do not know and could not know the real issues involved. It gives real meaning to the saying —- their minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed up and firmly set. Local governments provide services needed or desired by local residents at their expense. Those local governments are elected by the people they serve and are accountable to them. All of those elected officials (most of whom are unpaid or paid just a token amount) live in the communities they serve. They probably are the closest to a true democratic form of government that we have in this county. Local governments were formed at the demand of the local residents, and law always existed for them to abolish their local governments. This new law permits people who are not residents to abolish them or to promote that result. This new law also fosters another terrible mistake – taking action without knowing the facts; will consolidation save money? And, saving money is not always the goal. Another important fact is, do the residents want certain services or much higher levels of service and are they willing to pay for them? That is a decision they should make. Local governments also are the most responsive to their constituents needs and have the desire and power to solve many local problems promptly. There are no layers of bureaocracy or people who are not accountable. Last year my village had a surplus. This year we reduced taxes without decreasing services or laying off a single person. Also, we just received the highest, a AAA bond rating, from Standard & Poor’s, the bond rating agency. None of the state, county or town have achieved that surplus, reduction in taxes or bond rating. And, if the never ending unfunded mandates from big government would stop, we would be able to save our residents even more money.”
Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin, treasurer of the GNVOA, told the Record: “It is clear to me that the current legislation the state attorney general has created and now signed by Governor Paterson is simply smoke and mirrors. The real causes of high property taxes are unfunded state and federal mandates, and large government which is out of control with its spending and layers of bureaucrats. The same machinery which has ground to a halt in Albany and which recently passed excessively high taxes on ‘wealthy’ individuals, is the very one which now claims that local government is to blame. Clearly this is just a tactic to obscure the real issues. It is not the villages, which are contributing to the problem. In fact, it has been shown time and again that local government is the most efficient form of all since it is closest to the people.”
Great Neck Park District Board Chairman Robert Lincoln Jr. stated: “When passing the law, a great many senators acknowledged several problems which they said should be corrected with amendments before it takes effect. Three big flaws I see are: the lack of required due notice to voters that consolidation/dissolution is being considered; the lack of a required referendum for adoption of a final plan; and the fact that the referendum for a county initiated proposal for special districts is decided county-wide, not just by those who would be affected. I feel that these defects are egregious and that they disenfranchise the voters rather than empower them as advertised.”
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.