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Dissolving village works for these folks

I checked on Perrysburg last week. Everything seems fine.

Fire Company No. 1 remains on Main Street. Services will again be held Sunday morning at United Methodist Church.

Whew.

This will presumably reassure anyone who fears that village life will disappear if its government goes away. Perrysburg: still standing.

In what may be a sign of things to come, residents -- in a 60-9 landslide -- voted last week to dissolve Perrysburg's village government. Villagers in nearby Randolph and East Randolph did the same, by wide margins.

The village of 380, nestled in the hills of Cattaraugus County about an hour south of Buffalo, is mostly a collection of frame houses within a few blocks of Main Street. No traffic light. No village center. And, soon, no village government.

That is fine with Anna Arnold. She is 88, lives in a neat house on Main Street and voted for the government closest to her to disappear.

"I don't think we need so many layers of government," Arnold said as she headed to a hairdresser appointment. "It's not just the village, but all through the state and county. It will certainly save us money."

What now is a trickle may soon be a flood. A change in state law last week makes it easier to put dissolving a village to a vote. Just 10 percent of residents need to sign a petition. Petition drives begin next month in Williamsville, Lancaster and Sloan.

The folks who run Perrysburg did not wait for a softer law. The village mayor and trustees looked into making themselves disappear after residents asked about it. They got grant money from the state for a study. They asked the nonprofit Center for Governmental Research (www.cgr.org) for help. They found out that taxes would drop by 20 percent if the Town of Perrysburg absorbed the village.

Instead of fudging the numbers or fighting it, village officials put the question to a vote.

"We were not required to act," said Tony Kota, village mayor, "but we felt it would be the right thing for the village."

Imagine: elected officials who do what is best for people, even if it might mean losing their jobs. Way to go, Tony.

Kota has been Perrysburg's part-time mayor, at annual pay of $3,000, for 15 years. He is a trim, precise guy who manages a hardware store.

"Unemployment is up," he said. "People are struggling. When you can lower taxes by 20 percent, that's significant."

". . . The main concern people had was the town would not be as responsive as we are. But is that worth the extra layer of government? I'm sure that it's not."

The push for smaller government is growing -- fueled, I think, by rising taxes, lack of change and a continuing drain of jobs and people. Folks in five local towns voted recently to cut the number of board members. Dissolving villages is a bigger step.

In other parts of the country, people live with fewer boards, councils, trustees, mayors and school districts than we do.

A village resident is represented by a mayor and trustees, a town supervisor and a board, a county legislator, a state senator, an Assembly member and various executives. All that is missing is a personal valet.

Richard Arnold, Anna's son, spent 40 years in the South. He said the garbage got picked up and the streetlights fixed without a horde of politicians.

"We had one school district for the whole county," he said. "Services got delivered without all of the layers. In fact, they got delivered cheaper and better."

Arnold said that small-box government is a leftover from horse-and-buggy days, when travel was tough.

"Gowanda was a day trip," Arnold said. "Things are different now."

The Village of Perrysburg soon will disappear. Except for the savings, folks may hardly notice.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com

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