Questions remain over dissolving Middleburgh


By David Avitabile

Village of Middleburgh residents will face many uncertainties when they enter the voting booth next month to decide whether to dissolve the village.
In addition to determining the fate of the village itself, residents will likely not know how much money will be saved by dissolution, how much more town taxpayers will have to pay if there is no village nor the plan on how to provide services such as fire protection if there is no village.
Though there will be many unanswered questions, Wade Beltramo, the general counsel for the New York Conference of Mayors told about 125 people at an informational meeting/public hearing Monday that there are also several certainties.
If the dissolution is approved on February 19, Mr. Beltramo said village property owners will see their taxes go down, town taxpayers will see their taxes go up, and the village board would have to come up with a plan on how to dissolve the village and how to continue such services as fire protection.
Village and fire department officials at the meeting stressed that even if the village is dissolved, fire protection will continue in one form or another.
Part of the uncertainty is that under the new state law enacted about three years ago, if a petition to dissolve is presented, a vote is forced during a short time span without a plan in place, Mr. Beltramo said.
Under the old law, he said if there was a petition, there would be a study and then a vote. The old law required many fewer people to sign a petition.
"I think this process is undemocratic," he said. "It forces people to have an uninformed vote."
Though "village dissolution is a town issue," Mr. Beltramo said only village residents can cast ballots in the February 19 vote.
Though it may not be known how much will be saved, Mr. Beltramo said, "The [village] property owners should see their total tax bill go down. How much depends on a number of factors...You're going to see a savings."
Village taxpayers will no longer have to "subsidize" the town for services they do not receive, he said.
Taxpayers in the village, though, will likely have to continue to pay for the services they currently receive. Those services include water, sewer, street lights, sidewalks, fire protection, and street maintenance. Residents would have to pay for these services through a series of special districts, Mr. Beltramo said.
In all, he said village property owners would save a fraction of what they pay in taxes if the village is dissolved.
Since the town and village already share some services such as the justice office, and planning and zoning boards and have the same road supervisor, there may be little to gain in efficiency of there is no village, he said.
"There are not a ton of efficiencies to be achieved," he said.
"Economy of scale does not work for local governments," mostly because of geography, he said.
The village streets will still have to be taken care of, for example, but now the town would have more roads and streets to take care of, he said.
If dissolution is approved, Mr. Beltramo said residents could petition for a second vote on the plan. It is not know what would happen if that vote fails. That petition would need many more signatures than the original.
The board would have six months to develop a dissolution plan.
No matter what the state time table is, Mr. Beltramo said, village officials should take their time to develop the right plan.
"Take your time to do it right," he said.
The fate of employees, special districts, existing debt, and services have to be discussed and determined, he said.
The existing debt of a water and sewer district and a fire department would continue under those districts, he said.
If the vote fails next month, the issue of dissolution cannot be voted on again for four years, Mr. Beltramo said, though the issue can be studied.