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Middleburgh residents hear details about dissolving village

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
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— Nearly 200 people packed the auditorium at the Middleburgh school Monday to learn some details about what would happen if residents vote “yes” in a referendum asking whether the village should be dissolved.

Voters will head to the polls Feb. 19 and decide on dissolution in a referendum brought by a petition signed by 85 of the village’s 1,500 residents and certified last October.

Many questions weren’t answered — particularly the details on how services would be arranged if residents decide to dismantle the village.

Wade Beltramo, general counsel for the state Conference of Mayors, provided a statewide perspective on village dissolution along with criticism of the new law, approved in 2010, that spells out the process.

As it’s written, the law provides for a speedy process between the time a dissolution petition is certified and when a vote takes place. So precisely how new districts — such as water and sewer – would be organized, wouldn’t be detailed until plans were put in place after the vote.

“You’re not going to have that information until after you vote,” Beltramo said.

Dissolving villages isn’t new, according to information Beltramo provided, but efforts to eliminate villages have failed more than they’ve succeeded in the past.

In New York State, the village of Union was the first to dissolve back in 1921. The village of Keeseville is the most recent of a list of 46 villages that have taken the final step.

Another 24 villages are studying the idea, and out of 11 that underwent a vote since 2010, only one, the village of Altmar, approved it.

According to an outline of the process being distributed by the village, completion of a dissolution plan in September of this year would set a three-year process in motion starting with eliminating Public Works Department at the start of 2014, according to the village’s outline of the dissolution process.

Codes enforcement and building departments would be dissolved by July 1, 2014, and Planning and Zoning would be dissolved by July of 2015.

The water and sewer departments are projected to be eliminated by January of 2016 and debt would be transferred to the town of Middleburgh.

Remaining village agencies and accounts should be dissolved by April of 2016, and the town with a current population of 3,746 would grow to 5,246 after adding the village’s 1,500 people.

Financially, the biggest impact of dissolution would be for residents in the town of Middleburgh who would see taxes increase because village residents would no longer be paying property taxes to both the village and the town.

Those within the village, after dissolution, would see a reduction in their property taxes of just over four-percent, according to the village.

One loss in revenue cited by Mayor Matthew Avitabile is federal and state aid afforded to municipalities, a whole pot of which would not be coming to Schoharie County if the village is eliminated.

That money makes up about half of the revenues in the village’s $761,707 budget.

Overall, the village estimates dissolution will save $74,831 annually, but boost the Town of Middleburgh’s budget to about $1.65 million.

Information provided by the village includes estimates of cost, but there are now three different options being circulated in terms of what services would be cut. One option would see the fire department turned into an independent company run by fire commissioners.

Consulting fees to arrange for dismantling the village are projected to cost the village $80,400 for the 2013-14 fiscal year on top of $40,000 at the town level.

The next year, the village would spend about $50,000 on consulting fees.

Accounting for savings on DPW salaries at $35,698 and insurance at $30,982 and $6,000 renting space at the town’s DPW garage would yield a total savings of $12,680 for the village during the 2014-15 year.

Costs at the town level, including $60,000 in consulting fees, adjustments at DPW would add to an extra $122,832 in costs, according to the village’s analysis.

After hearing details, Middleburgh resident Don Snoop said the whole process was “as clear as mud.”

He said it would be ludicrous to vote for something with plans to learn the details after the vote.

“This village just celebrated 300 years. It’s got to take a whole lot of convincing,” Snoop said.

Thomas Wargo said the historical significance and heritage of Middleburgh are important, perhaps more so than the potential financial savings.

Barak Strock, in an e-mail later Monday, said he believed the village has presented the dissolution topic in a negative light.

“I will vote no on this matter as I do not feel that our current mayor nor his board have the knowledge to properly put this plan in action without putting personal feelings aside,” Strock said.

Village Mayor Matthew Avitabile admits he could be biased. He grew up in the village.

 
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