Dissolving Villages, Towns and Special Districts?

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Assembly, Senate Pass Legislation; Waiting For Gov’s Signature

Floral Park Mayor Kevin Greene is urging residents to contact their elected officials in strong opposition to a bill aimed at dissolving villages, towns and special districts.

“Our very way of life is being threatened by our state officials,” Mayor Greene said in a mass email he is circulating to get the word out. “Simplifying this process makes our village vulnerable to outside influences and costly unnecessary expenditures. Touting consolidation without merit on the village level of government, closest to the people, is foolish and threatens to change the suburban character that we love. Bigger government is not better government.”

Introduced by Assembly Spe-aker Sheldon Silver (#A8501), at the behest of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and sponsored in the Senate (#S5661) by Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, the legislation aims to amend the process to dissolve villages, towns and special districts.

Dubbed the New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, proponents of the bill say it’s a “bipartisan legislative initiative” aimed at reducing costs for taxpayers by encouraging local government efficiency through consolidation.

It passed the Assembly by a vote of 117 to 26 June 1 and days later on June 3 passed the Senate by a vote of 46 to 16. The bill now goes to the governor for his signature.

According to Mayor Greene, the proposed bills would compromise the safety and health of Floral Park by loss of local control of police, fire, sanitation, library and recreation services; legalize capricious and audacious legislation that seeks to undermine the quality of life that has been equated with the Village of Floral Park for over a century; damage suburban quality of life by encouraging urbanization; eliminate self-determination and local governmental control; increase the cost of services by destroying volunteerism, e.g., our volunteer fire department; impose the heavy costs of dissolution process upon the village; and allow outsiders to determine the future of Floral Park.

“We need your help,” Mayor Greene writes in the mass email. “Please contact your representatives … and insist that they vote no on the ill-conceived and hastily drafted Assembly Bill #A8501 and Senate Bill #S5661, which amends the process to dissolve our village. Let’s preserve the place we love to live, work and raise a family.”

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said the legislation “empowers” taxpayers, local officials and counties to reorganize outdated and inefficient local governments and establishes uniform, user-friendly procedures for local governments to consolidate, or dissolve, so localities may enhance their delivery of services, achieve financial savings and reduce local property taxes.

The bill applies to towns, villages, districts, special or other improvement districts, library districts and other special districts created by law. It does not, however, apply to school districts, city districts and special purpose districts counties have established under local law.

The legislation allows for a joint agreement and resolution in support of the merger. Public hearings are required to enable public comment. Further, a referendum is required between the affected localities and stipulates that consolidation will not go forward unless approved by a majority in each affected community.

Attorney General Cuomo hailed the Assembly’s and Senate’s passage of the legislation: “I applaud Speaker Silver and Minority Leader Kolb for working together to pass a truly historic piece of legislation … For more than 75 years, the issue of government consolidation has been examined and studied to death. Now, thanks to strong leadership in the Assembly, New Yorkers are one step closer to having the power to initiate real reform in their communities and lower their tax burden. I look forward to the measure’s swift passage in the Senate.”

Cuomo added, “I commend the state Senate for taking action on such a critical issue … 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.”

The attorney general said the state’s overlapping governments saddle residents with the nation’s highest local taxes. The proposal will not mandate consolidation. Rather, it restructures the law to allow citizens, local officials and counties to make the decisions themselves.

In all, Cuomo notes that there are more than 10,500 governmental entities imposing taxes and fees across New York State. This includes towns, villages, districts and special districts such as water, sewer and lighting districts.

The bill is troubling to Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who voted no during the Assembly vote. “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 … 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,” Assemblyman Alfano said.

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 seach bill #S5661.

 

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