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For Orchard Park Town Board, things could be looking up

Four towns in New York State have three-member town boards, and three of them are in Erie County.

But that may change.

Orchard Park's seven-year experiment with a downsized Town Board may be coming to an end. A group of residents, including two former board members, plans to file petitions Monday in favor of a referendum to increase the size of the board from three to five members.

If the petitions are validated, residents would vote in November to add two council positions to the board and Orchard Park could could join Hamburg and West Seneca to return to a five-member board.

Orchard Park was the third town to vote to reduce the size of the board in 2009 after regionalism activist Kevin Gaughan sparked a downsizing frenzy on the theory that smaller government would save money, increase transparency and encourage more citizen involvement.

Evans and Alden also downsized to three member boards.

But some current and former Orchard Park board members say saving the cost of two councilmen's salaries was not worth it, and may even have cost money.

"We really, frankly, did a lot of the work that is now being sent out to consultants because the (current board members) don’t have the time to do it," said former Councilwoman Nancy Ackerman, who added, "Two people running an organization as large as this town isn't the best way to conduct business."

Ackerman's seat was one of the two eliminated in 2012 following the 2009 vote. She is one of those spearheading the upsizing initiative, along with former Supervisor Dennis Mill and others.

"It was a terrible disappointment, not for me, but that the community was going to be disserved by having fewer people," Ackerman said.

Current Councilman Michael Sherry, who is not among those collecting signatures, said adding two more members would broaden representation, provide for more viewpoints among lawmakers and spread the work among more people.

"Ultimately, you have three people making decisions," Sherry said.

Passions ran high in 2009, when Orchard Park residents joined the effort to reduce the board. Voters were lined up 20 minutes before polls opened in the basement of the municipal center, the only polling place, and some waited a half hour to vote. Gaughan greeted voters in the parking lot throughout the day.

The special election was held on a Wednesday in late September, and attracted about 15% of eligible voters. Still, the message was clear with downsizing overwhelming approved, 66% to 34%.

Resident David Schuster, a regular at Town Board meetings, was one of those who favored the smaller government. He said was asked to sign the petition to upsize recently, but he declined because he had worked to reduce the board.

But things change in 10 years.

"Most everybody I’ve talked to is for the upsizing," Schuster said. "It’s a different scenario, and I can see the rationale behind upsizing."

Five towns eventually downsized to three members: West Seneca, Evans, Orchard Park, Alden and Hamburg.

Today four of New York's 933 towns have three-member boards, according to the state Association of Towns.

Organizers of the petition drive said they need about 700 valid signatures, and already have more than 1,000.

If approved, two additional council positions would be on the ballot in the 2021 election. They would be sworn in Jan. 1, 2022, one to a two-year term and one to a four-year term, Ackerman said.

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