The idea isn't new. Vicki Brown and Jaimie Saunders are researchers with the Center for Government Research, a non-profit based in Rochester. Their organization has been helping communities consider the pros and cons of merging for the past 75 years. Brown says since the 1920s, 45 towns and villages in New York have merged or dissolved. Julie Grant recently spoke with Saunders and Brown.
That's according to Dan Macentee, spokesman for state Senator Betty Little.
According to Macentee,...
People tend to think that dissolution of a town will result in major financial savings. Many towns save and consolidate initially. However, according to Vicki Brown with the Center for Government Research, the issue needs to be carefully examined in a long time frame.
“Obviously the simple things are you would eliminate a duplicate planning board or a zoning board and obviously the village government if you dissolved a village, but really what you’re looking at are those long-term investments,” said Brown. She explained that towns are jointly investing in water or sewer or economic development, or in some cases have equipment needs they can’t meet. They can also face the problems of repairing storm sewers or being unable to provide their public works services as effectively as they need to and have to cut back on these services.
“So when we go into these studies, we really do take a look on a fact-based basis on what exists and then take a look at their options and talk about what is it they’re really to achieve. But it’s really a fact-based kind of study,” said Brown.
Jaimie Saunders is another researcher with the Center for Government Research. She said, “There’s a lot of fiscal stress for municipalities throughout the state, and the North Country is no exception to that. You add in the property tax cap, and you add in all the different levels, from the federal government to the state to your smaller villages and towns, and trying to find the panacea, the answer to release that pressure of all that fiscal stress, you know dissolution comes up.” Saunders says that the savings from dissolving villages are generally very marginal since few towns actually want to give up or change services.
Last fall, residents of Potsdam voted against a proposal to dissolve the village. Saunders worked with people in Potsdam to study the idea and described the committee in Potsdam as “unique.” These committees are all volunteer-driven where citizens come together to represent their communities and develop a plan, review the issues on the table and move forward. “The committee in Potsdam was incredible engaged, more so than any project I’ve worked on, and really took ownership and learned so much in terms of how their government operates and were open to thinking of new opportunities,” said Saunders.
According to Saunders, the dissolution vote, which was about 70% against, was an affirmation of the committee’s desire to keep the village as it was. “But what has happened subsequent to that, we had two committee members who ran for public office, including having village residents who started to view themselves as part of the town and getting more active and opening communication around these economic development issues,” said Saunders. “I know they’re currently reevaluating their code and their uniformity their or issues, ways to increase revenue for the village.”
When communities such as Potsdam consider mergers and dissolutions, those decisions can be influenced by a variety of things. While finances and services play a role, the identities of the towns and villages can become a significant part of the equation. “It depends on the community and it also depends on the other issues that are bearing on the discussion at hand,” said Brown. “And it may not seem like a very big issue, but it definitely is in the communities that we have talked to.”
Brown says that when CGR worked with two municipalities in Seneca Falls, the Village of Seneca Falls and the Town of Seneca Falls, residents identified with the fact that they were all from Seneca Falls. However, people feel differently in other communities. “People think of those identities separately,” said Brown “In fact, part of the process, people start to realize that they are in the town outside the village or in the village, but they are all members of the same town. So sometimes it’s an identity issue, sometimes it’s an issue over totally unrelated ‘will our water rates go up, will our sewer rates be affected,’ so it really depends on what is the driving issue.”