Citizens Need to Submit a Petition and Pass a Referendum
Now 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 taxpayers 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 “Our system of local government is outdated and overly complicated, and today we are making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local government entities.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.”
Residents in unincorporated areas of towns such as residents of Elmont, Franklin Square and West Hempstead find themselves not only paying school, county and town taxes but also taxes for special districts such as sanitary, water and fire districts.
“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. “They’re selling this thing as a bill to create smaller government when, in effect, what it does is create larger, less responsive government,” said Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins.
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.