The fate of Depew could be decided Jan. 17, the date the Village Board set Monday night for residents to vote on a public referendum to dissolve the village government.
But when voters weigh in on a simply worded referendum asking whether the village should be dissolved, they will do so without any definitive numbers or data about how merging the village into two towns will impact their taxes and services, according to village officials.
"What makes this particular election so difficult is there are no tax numbers or information on whether services would be better," Village Trustee Don Jakubowski said after the board set the referendum date. "People don't really have anything concrete to base their decision on. We don't even know what services the towns would take over, and there's no clear-cut evidence that this will be a positive or a negative thing."
Two-thirds of the village lies in the Town of Cheektowaga; the remaining third, in Lancaster.
"This is really a town issue, just as much if not more, than a village issue," Wade Beltramo, general counsel at Albany-based New York State Conference of Mayors, told The Buffalo News. "It's not the village that will dictate how this plays out. It's the towns."
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Dissolution proponents need to ask town officials how they would handle services and costs if they had to absorb Depew, Beltramo said, noting that the key question for many is how their taxes would be affected.
"There isn't a place to get any figures" that are definite, Jakubowski said.
Lancaster Councilman Matt Walter, who attended the Village Board meeting, agreed afterward that it is a tough situation. "This isn't something we can point to 10 other villages. It doesn't happen that often," Walter said, noting that Lancaster would likely have to establish a special tax district if the dissolution became reality. "At the end of the day, I do not envy the village. They need to vote with their minds and not their hearts."
The public's vote will be noon to 9 p.m. in Senior Center within the Municipal Building, 85 Manitou St.
A grassroots petition effort in the summer by former Village Clerk Joan M. Priebe and Irvine G. Reinig II sparked the referendum effort that is headed to a public vote.
Related story: Depew divided over effort to eliminate village
The Village Board is required to do a dissolution study/plan and cost-benefit analysis within 180 days after the January vote if the public votes to dissolve the village. The board would hold a public hearing on the plan, but ultimately it would have to be approved by the five-member board even if trustees and the mayor are personally against dissolving. Four of the board members, including Mayor Jesse Nikonowicz, and the police and fire chiefs, all insisted Monday they are opposed to dissolving the village and would work hard to make sure it survives. Trustee Bob Kucewicz was absent.
"My stand is to keep the village, and try our hardest that the Village of Depew stays the Village of Depew," said Trustee Karl Bukowiecki to loud applause from residents attending the meeting.
He was not alone.
"I definitely am not in favor of dissolving the village," Nikonowicz said, later noting that about 700 signs opposing dissolution are now scattered on front lawns throughout the village.
The adamant Village Board opposition prompted Village Attorney Kathleen McDonald to assure the public that board members would "not shirk their legal responsibilities because of their personal feelings" and would follow the law.
Depending on what shakes out, a second referendum on dissolution might be in the offing, following the village's study that shows projected taxes, costs and services. That hinges on whether 25 percent of registered village voters file a petition within 45 days from the board's approval of a dissolution plan. That means approximately 2,500 signatures would be needed, far more than the 986 required for the September petition that triggered the referendum going to a public vote Jan. 17.