In the last nine years, 17 villages across New York State have dissolved after public votes. Albany created new rules to make dissolution easier, but a new study says the process is difficult.
There have been a number of attempts in Western New York to dissolve villages and some, like Forestville, have been approved by residents. Sinclairville votes Aug. 13 on a plan for dissolution.
Lisa Parshall, an associate professor of political science at Daemen College and a public policy fellow for the Rockefeller Institute of Government, studies local government for the institute and for a planned book. Parshall said some villages are easier to dissolve than others.
"Those where the services are already largely provided by the town or there are already a sharing of services, in which case the village can dissolve without people feeling that they are missing a beat," she said. "One of the criticisms of the dissolution is that it often then will lead to the creation of special districts. Just as you said, special districts don't have personnel. They are not a general service provider, so they don't have personnel and legacy costs, but they are also not as public. They're a little more opaque."
Parshall said the current system can leave voters not sure of the benefits of dissolution.
"Dissolution studies almost always show some savings to village voters, in terms of property taxes, usually accompanied by a small increase for the property taxes for the town outside the village voters," she said. "How deep those savings are, how they're distributed, how long they're going to last is completely dependent upon the implementation of the plan. So, again, voters often feel they are that they are voting without complete information of what the final results are going to be."
Parshall said voters can choose to keep a village when they want the ambiance of a village and receive unique services from that village. There are also neighborliness issues that make residents reluctant to see employees laid off or services potentially cut.
She said state policies in recent years are increasing the financial pressure on villages that can force dissolution, like the property tax cap. The governor is sending a message.
"With the Empowerment Act to ease the legal path, to make it easier for citizens to pursue that. At the same time, if you look at some of his other pieces of legislation, including the property tax cap, shared service mandate, these are creating more financial pressures on communities to look at shared services, which is often a first step towards dissolution," Parshall said.