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Editorial: By voting to keep their village, residents remain stuck with its financial problems

The overwhelming vote in favor of keeping the Village of Depew intact was not a surprise. Voters chose to retain their village identity and services rather than dissolve and hope that taxes go down.

Now some of those same voters who did not want to dissolve the village have decided they are sick of being double-taxed and want to pursue becoming a town. Doing so is possibly a much higher hill to climb than dissolving.

The 124-year-old village government isn’t going anywhere anytime soon – not for the four years dissolution advocates must sit in wait for another bite at what might be a more appealing apple by then. There is something else that’s not going away anytime soon – the village’s $8.2 million debt.

Dissolution advocates have been arguing about the village’s millions in debt and its soaring tax levy – up 86 percent since 2003, as reported by The News, while the budget increased 56 percent. Village leaders chose not to confirm those numbers, instead accusing dissolution advocates of being spin doctors trying to trick residents into thinking there was big savings in dissolving.

We don’t know what would have happened to taxes. Village residents were being asked to head to the polls without the information to make an educated decision.

The state encourages villages to dissolve in order to cut down on redundant, expensive layers of government. But the law is structured in a way that village residents have to vote without knowing important details, such as the effects on taxes and government services.

Here’s the backward way it works: Had voters decided to dissolve, then the village would have had to prepare a plan detailing the effects of dissolution. Before the law changed in 2010, a municipal plan had to be put in place before any vote.

So residents voted 3,006 to 1,165 to keep their village. But the question remains: Are they better off keeping their separate government, police, fire, public works, etc.?

This village is all of 5 square miles and 15,146 residents. Two-thirds lies in Cheektowaga, with the rest in Lancaster. Had the referendum passed, those towns would have absorbed their parts of Depew.

From the perspective of anyone who likes less government, dissolution should have been worth trying.

Lyons, the county seat of Wayne County, dissolved on Dec. 31, 2015, a few years after Seneca Falls voters sent their village in Seneca County into the history books. Both were hard-fought victories for those who wanted to move on, citing high taxes. And much of the fear of village proponents about decreased services proved to be unfounded.

The two villages provided good examples of favorable outcomes, ones Village of Depew residents could have used to build on. With the dissolution effort defeated, pro-villagers have earned a victory dance. When the music stops, they can get down to the hard work of making their village financially stable.

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