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Both sides claim wins on outlook for villages
This week's elections offer hope for all

Four small villages in the state voted themselves out of business this week, perhaps the largest number deciding at one time to dissolve.

Another village decided to continue, and in East Aurora, the candidate adamantly opposed to dissolution won the mayoral election, considered a referendum on the issue.

People on both sides of the debate see victory in the results, and that points to the difficulty of predicting whether this trend will continue and what it portends for such villages as Williamsville and Lancaster, which could decide this year whether to dissolve.

Three villages in Cattaraugus County -- Randolph, East Randolph and Perrysburg -- as well as Seneca Falls in Seneca County, will cease to exist after next year.

Only residents in Port Henry, near Lake Champlain, voted in Tuesday's village elections against dissolving.

The measures were placed on ballots weeks before a new state law takes effect Sunday easing the dissolution of villages.

All of the votes and the discussion may be a sign of the times.

"I wouldn't be surprised if there is a greater focus on village dissolution during economic times such as this," said Peter A. Baynes, executive director of New York Conference of Mayors.

"To have four dissolve in one week is clearly an indicator of the voters' desire to reduce taxes and change their future," said Kevin Gaughan, an activist promoting village dissolution and downsizing of town boards.

In North Collins, a trustee candidate open to dissolution was the top vote-getter.

But in the East Aurora mayoral race, the village trustee who favored preserving the village narrowly beat the two-year incumbent who favors a vote on dissolution.

In Seneca Falls, a landfill in the town generates enough money so town residents don't have a tax bill, but that revenue could not be allocated to the village. Village residents approved dissolving.

Does that mean similar outcomes in similar votes expected this year?

In most of the votes, the issue was money. But the votes to dissolve Randolph, East Randolph and Perrysburg might be seen as the final step in the consolidation of services in smaller communities.

East Randolph Mayor Howard Van Rensselaer said he started out 11 years ago by moving to consolidate services with the Town of Randolph.

"We just wanted to go slow so people would see how it was going to work," he said.

A municipal building was built six years ago to serve the town and the villages of Randolph and East Randolph, and the town took over virtually all remaining services two years ago. The town clerk has been appointed clerk in the two villages; the town plows village streets; and a fire district encompassing the two village fire companies was created several years ago. Village residents will pay off the village debt.

"It's not the end of the world. It will still be Randolph, still be a Randolph post office," Randolph Supervisor Dale S. Senn said. "We're really not going to notice much of a change."

Gaughan said a similar evolution is going on in Erie County municipalities, where towns and villages are sharing some services.

"The only people who seem to be surprised about upcoming village dissolution votes seem to be politicians," he said.

In Perrysburg, some residents filed a petition asking for dissolution last year, and while it didn't meet the requirements of the law, the Village Board decided to look at the issue, Mayor Anthony Kota said.

"The savings potential was almost 19 percent for village residents," he said.

Because of the increased valuation and sales tax coming from the village, residents of the Town of Perrysburg also should see their taxes go down by 13 percent, he said.

"We share a lot of services already; it just seemed a natural thing," Kota said.

"Money and taxes are always a central issue," said Baynes, of the Conference of Mayors.

He finds several ironies in this week's votes.

"These five villages all undertook and had a vote of dissolution under the old law that some criticized as too difficult to have a vote," he said.

Also, with the dissolution votes of the four this year and the villages of Limestone last year and Pike in 2008, six villages soon will cease to exist. But 16 new districts will be created to provide services such as plowing, he said.

"We're actually creating 10 more local governments through the dissolution process," Baynes said.

The Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, signed into law last year, allows local government entities to be abolished more easily by their governing body or citizens. It changes the number of signatures required on petitions for dissolution from 33 percent of the residents to 10 percent. One of the reasons cited for enacting the law was to reorganize governments to provide services more efficiently.

East Aurora is seeking a state grant to study the dissolution of the village, but the Village Board has not committed to dissolving.

"The cons do outweigh the pros on this," Mayor-elect Allan A. Kasprzak said. "Why would you eliminate the one level of government that doesn't have political partisanship and turn it over to another level of government where political partisanship is high?"

e-mail: bobrien@buffnews.com

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