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Consolidation Bill Passes Assembly

Bill Gives Mechanism for Dissolving Governments

A bill that is being considered in Albany that would give the power to residents to dissolve local governments including towns, villages and special districts has passed the Assembly overwhelmingly by a 118 to 26 margin, and, as of Tuesday, was expected to be taken up in the New York State Senate.

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. Proponents view the act as a way to streamline governments in favor of a more cost-effective way of delivering services to residents. “We have the historic opportunity to pass legislation that will empower citizens, streamline New York’s antiquated local government system and reduce the tremendous tax burden that New Yorkers deal with every day,” said Cuomo in a press release about the legislation.

According to the bill (Assembly Bill A08501), the citizen-initiated process of dissolving a government is triggered by the filing of a petition of at least 10 percent of registered voters (or 5,000 registered voters, whichever is less) and then a referendum in which a majority of registered voters within that municipality or special district favor dissolving the governmental entity.

The bill also authorizes counties to abolish, merge and consolidate multiple units of government by a county-wide referendum.

Some county residents believe such a bill will help save taxpayers money by making it possible to eliminate some layers of government that are considered by some to be inefficient and costly.

Residents for Efficient Special Districts (RESD) is a civic organization aimed at increasing public awareness of special taxing districts and their impact on resident’s tax bills and educating elected officials on all levels for consolidation of special taxing districts into more efficient, transparent and accountable public service providers, according to the organization’s website.

Laura Mallay, executive director of RESD, feels that there are some districts that are not operating as efficiently as they could and that has created inequities when it comes to different taxing districts. “We want one town sanitation district with one tax rate for all residents. We want the Fire Districts to adhere to a higher authority that will rein in the outlandish expenditures and help to organize a body that will successfully and competently safeguard our community. We long for a new generation of 21st century politicians who hear us when we cry efficiency,” she said in testifying on July 5, 2007 to the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness.

A December 2007 report by Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman cited disparities in providing services by governmental entities. According to the report, residents served by Sanitation District #6, which covers Elmont, Franklin Square and West Hempstead among other areas, paid an average of $974 in 2006 for sanitary services in 2006 while the Town of Hempstead sanitation department provided it to residents not served by a district for $674.

While there are those who feel that the elimination of some special districts would lead to a more cost-effective way of delivering services, opponents of the government consolidation bill feel there is no evidence that the elimination of some governmental entities would save money. Some opponents of the bill also feel eliminating some special districts would be dangerous since there are no provisions in the bill for providing alternate services.

If a fire district is dissolved, for example, what entity would begin to provide fire service for the residents who were served by that district? 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.”

“The bill as it is now is very troubling to me. I don’t know how you can tell fire departments, libraries and villages that we can dissolve you in the wink of an eye. Clearly, we need reforms and, we need to look at how we can cut taxes on homeowners,” said Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who was one of the 26 Assembly members who voted against the bill. “It seems to me that we’re now targeting volunteers and institutions that are the backbone of our communities. That’s not consolidation that’s an attack on our neighborhoods.”