Depew residents are expected to vote before the end of January on whether to dissolve the 124-year-old village’s government.
But before the 15,000 residents vote on a referendum, there’s likely to be debate about the pros and cons of dissolution, whether taxpayers will save money, the fate of 176 village employees and Depew’s assets, and the impact on the towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga, which surround Depew and would have to absorb it.
The New York State Conference of Mayors is hosting a public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at Depew High School to field residents’ questions.
Here’s answers to 5 key questions likely to arise:
Will Depew taxpayers save money if the village is dissolved?
The answer to that is as murky as a pile of mud.
Advocates of dissolution say village debt is spiraling out of control and its tax levy is up by 56 percent. They predict Depew residents living in a $100,000 home within the Town of Lancaster could potentially save $542 a year on property taxes and residents living within the Town of Cheektowaga could possibly save $1,016 in taxes.
But neither town has officially projected a tax savings, and there are many skeptics.
Village leaders say the predicted savings are not a sure thing, pointing out that the village has $8.5 million in existing debt that village residents are responsible for, and that residents would likely face increased costs because the towns would have to provide services to a larger population and may have to increase their payrolls.
How would services change for village residents?
Police and fire protection will be lightening rods.
“The volunteer fire department would go bye-bye,” said Mayor Jesse C. Nikonowicz, a member of the 140-member Depew fire department with three fire halls and six fire companies.
The 28-member police force clocks excellent response times of between two and four minutes, he said.
If Cheektowaga doesn’t expand its force, how long would it take their police to respond to an incident on Transit Road in Depew from their big crime area of Pine Ridge, asked Nikonowicz.
It is critical to pin down response times for Lancaster and Cheektowaga police if Depew police don’t exist, said Wade Beltramo, general counsel for the Conference of Mayors.
There’s also snowplowing streets, garbage collection, parks and recreation service and programs, and more services for the towns to deliver.
The schools would NOT change. The four existing school districts - Depew, Maryvale, Lancaster and Cheektowaga Central - that now cover the village, would remain the same. The Depew School District would remain intact, Nikonowicz said.
What happens to village government property?
Depew would have to sell its village police cars and other vehicles, public works garage, the Municipal Building and administrative supplies, and fire trucks. They could be transferred to Cheektowaga and Lancaster or sold to others.
The village is expecting delivery any day of a fire truck worth $500,000.
“Our backs will be against the wall. We’ll be forced to sell stuff at rock bottom sale prices,” Nikonowicz said.
What happens to 176 full- and part-time village workers?
There’s no guarantee either of the two towns will hire them.
“All of the jobs could be at risk,” Nikonowicz said. “The towns of Lancaster and Cheektowaga have indicated they are not willing to hire anybody. They’ll try to make do without taking any of these people on board.”
If a majority of Depew residents vote for dissolving the village, is it a done deal?
After the vote, village leaders must prepare a dissolution plan within 180 days to determine what will happen to village government property, intermunicipal agreements with other towns, services, village employees and more. A public hearing on the plan will be held before the Village Board votes on it.
Residents could file a petition to hold a second referendum on whether to approve the dissolution plan, according to Beltramo. Twenty-five percent of registered voters’ signatures are needed on such a petition.
“You could have a dissolution by default,” Beltramo said. “If you don’t get 25 percent of the signatures of registered voters within 45 days after the plan is approved, then it goes into effect automatically.”
If enough signatures are validated to trip a second referendum, and a majority of voters reject the dissolution plan, the dissolution does not go forward.