The battle to dissolve Depew village government is now real.
Advocates who want the village government eliminated this week filed a petition with 1,712 signatures, which, pending validation, would be far more than the number required to force a public referendum.
Now, village officials are forced to deal with the likelihood that residents could be voting as early as December on whether to dissolve the 124-year-old, 5-square-mile village of 15,000 residents.
“I am not surprised, but was surprised at the number of signatures they turned in,” Mayor Jesse C. Nikonowicz said Wednesday night. “I don’t think we’ll be able to challenge a sufficient number, so I believe it will go to a public referendum.”
Approximately 975 signatures – representing 10 percent of the number of registered voters from the last election – must be validated in order for the village to schedule a vote.
Joan M. Priebe, a former village clerk, and resident Irvine G. Reinig II spearheaded the door-to-door petitioning that began in earnest last June. It sparked a lot of talk among municipal employees fearing that they could lost their jobs. But other residents feel that they could save money on their taxes, pointing to the village government’s spiraling debt and spending.
Depew has never voted on dissolution. Two-thirds of the village lies in Cheektowaga, with the remaining third in the Town of Lancaster. If a referendum to dissolve the village is passed, both of those communities would have to absorb Depew.
This is the first time that petitions have been circulated to force a referendum in Depew. Village Administrator Maureen T. Jerackas said her phone at Village Hall has been flooded with calls from the public about the petition.
“Some people are upset and said they thought we were merging and every one would keep their jobs, and that’s not the case,” she said. “Others are calling to say they were misled and said they thought it was for a study.”
The village clerk determines how many of the 1,712 signatures are valid. After a 10-day window, ending next Thursday, a determination is made whether there are enough valid signatures for a referendum. If there are, a vote would be scheduled between 60 and 90 days from that date.
Meanwhile, the Vote-Depew organization, which wants to keep the village intact, will sponsor a question-and-answer forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at Depew High School.