Fort Johnson finalizes village dissolution plan, public hearing set Sept. 6

FILE -  Old Fort Johnson in Fort Johnson in 2020
FILE - Old Fort Johnson in Fort Johnson in 2020

FORT JOHNSON — Property taxes would be lowered without any loss in services in Fort Johnson under plans to dissolve the village government that will be presented at a public hearing next month.

“All in all I think it’s a very sound plan that would benefit the village,” Fort Johnson Mayor Michael Simmons said. “As a village resident, I do not see any drawbacks. I only see pluses. We’re getting more service for less taxes and the same amount of government oversight.”

The Laberge Group was hired earlier this year to develop a plan studying the impacts of dissolving the village government to be absorbed by the town of Amsterdam after the Fort Johnson Board of Trustees voted to explore the process in February.

Fort Johnson and Amsterdam officials coordinated throughout the process to develop the final plan that has been released online and will be presented at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6 at Village Hall.

The Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the plan’s adoption during its following meeting on Sept. 13. The dissolution plan would then be sent to a public referendum for village voters to decide tentatively planned for Nov. 15.

Under the dissolution plan, landowners would experience an immediate savings from the elimination of village property taxes at a rate this year of $86.71 per $1,000 assessed value. There are no town-wide property taxes in Amsterdam, but landowners pay taxes towards local fire protection services. The rate in Fort Johnson would be $22.87 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The village would pay off the roughly $349,000 remaining from a previously issued bond for sewer infrastructure improvements to eliminate the $185 per parcel in annual debt service fees paid by property owners.

A special sewer district would be established by the town to assess annual usage fees at existing rates. The town would likely levy additional property taxes to cover sewer maintenance costs.

The majority of Fort Johnson’s assets would be turned over to Amsterdam, including most equipment, vehicles and property. Only Village Hall would instead be turned over to the Fort Johnson Volunteer Fire Company across the street.

The town would assume governance over Fort Johnson and be responsible for providing all public works services. All elected and staffed positions in the village would be eliminated. Fort Johnson’s clerk and one of its laborers have already been planning to retire. Amsterdam has committed to hiring the village’s full-time highway worker.

Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza believes Amsterdam’s more robust public works department would easily be able to take over providing services in Fort Johnson with the addition of the village’s existing employee.

“There won’t be any change to service,” DiMezza pledged. “In fact, they will probably see better service.”

Aside from property taxes, the biggest concern from village residents during an informational meeting in April on dissolution was the potential impact to snow removal. The village’s existing highway worker would be assigned to Fort Johnson to perform snow removal and other tasks with support as needed from Amsterdam staff, DiMezza said.

Although the decision to dissolve the village will be up to Fort Johnson officials and voters alone, DiMezza supports the plan and does not see any downsides to the town absorbing the village.

“It shouldn’t be too much of a transition,” DiMezza said.

Outside of the village the town has approximately 5,523 residents and spans 29 square miles. Fort Johnson by comparison has just 467 residents and spans 0.7 square miles.

The dissolution plan estimates it would cost Amsterdam about $89,724 per year to provide services in Fort Johnson. Those costs should be virtually covered through sales and mortgage taxes and other revenue that would be reapportioned from the village to the town, DiMezza said.

Under the plan the village would formally dissolve on Dec. 31, 2023. Fort Johnson would retain its name and would become a hamlet within the town. Village laws and codes would remain intact for two years post dissolution. The town could subsequently repeal, amend or add those provisions to Amsterdam’s regulations.

Simmons is supportive of the dissolution plan that the Board of Trustees began mulling over a year ago due to residents’ lack of interest and involvement in the village, creating concerns about long term leadership and operations as several elected officials and employees look to retire.

“It’s coming to a head,” Simmons said. “It is the right time to move forward into dissolving into the town. We believe the town is acting in good faith and will support us and support the hamlet like it has supported the village for years.”

Fort Johnson’s proposed dissolution plan can be viewed online at labergegroup.com/fortjohnson/

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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