By FELICIA KRIEG
---- — CHAMPLAIN — A crowd of Village of Champlain residents expressed confusion and even apprehension about the dissolution process at a special meeting.
One asked if any village employees would lose their jobs should the entity dissolve.
Another wanted to know what property-tax rates would be if the village were to be absorbed by the Town of Champlain.
If the majority chooses dissolution at a March 19 vote, a study will be launched and a plan devised. Some at the recent session, held at the Town of Champlain Office Complex to allow more room for people wanting to learn more about the process, already knew that a petition signed by qualified villagers could force another vote once the plan is complete.
But how long would residents have to get that petition filled and filed, one person queried?
Forty-five days is allowed, Sean M. Maguire, Northern New York regional representative for the New York State Department of State said. “It’s a very short time frame.”
That response was quick and easy, but the answers to so many other questions — including tax rates and the fate of employees — couldn’t yet be answered with certainty or with much detail.
The village just recently was pushed to put dissolution up for vote and isn’t obligated to make a dissolution plan — yet.
A “yes” vote on March 19 would start the process of preparation for a possible dissolution, Maguire told the roomful of concerned residents and Village Board members.
If residents vote not to dissolve, another petition would not be valid for four years, Maguire said.
Should residents OK the move, though, the Village Board would be required to gather facts detailing how village services would function once its government dissolved.
The village sits within the Town of Champlain, so the latter government would serve its residents in all capacities should dissolution happen. And the town would take over such infrastructure such as the village’s public water and sewer systems.
The information-gathering process takes about six months.
“The process is going to be transparent,” Maguire said.
FISCAL IMPACT ANALYSIS
The village could choose to hire a consultant, or the board could appoint a dissolution committee, Maguire said.
In either case, there would be a dissolution study that would include a fiscal impact analysis, a dissolution plan and alternatives to dissolution, he said.
The Department of State recommends the dissolution study include an examination of current costs and operations, cost estimates based on the village budget and a set of options to consider in developing a dissolution plan.
That plan should include the best options from the study on to dissolve, with final estimate costs included, the state recommends.
Alternatives to dissolution should also be developed, and the state recommends these include a strategy to reduce costs and improve services if the village is not dissolved.
Maguire distributed a document at the session that outlines the process that listed possible outcomes of dissolution. Among them are a 20 percent savings from municipal consolidation; property-tax reductions of almost 15 percent achieved through shared services; and an unchanged level of service.
However, he emphasized that each village dissolution case is unique, and taxes don’t always decrease. They could, in fact, go up.
A public meeting would follow each completed step of the process, Maguire said.
A fee for consultant work is between $40,000 and $50,000, Maguire said.
New York state offers grants to cover most of the cost of a consultant to municipalities that are moving toward dissolution in an effort to increase local government efficiency, he said.
“We want all of New York state to be as competitive as it can be,” he said.
The grant covers 90 percent of the cost of the consultant, and no village has been denied the funding to date, Maguire said.
The State Department of State would review the consultant’s report for objectivity and the findings would be presented to village residents at a public meeting, he said.
Between seven and 11 months after the initial vote, the process would enter a petitioning stage when residents can elect to file a permissive referendum in objection to the plan, Maguire said.
If no permissive referendum is filed, the plan would be adopted and the village would dissolve, absorbed by the Town of Champlain.
“You’ve got the simplest form of government here that’s does the most for the people, and if that village goes away, are you going to get more services?” Village Mayor Gregory Martin said.
But whether or not a dissolution is best for the village, some would simply like to see the results of the study, which will only happen if villagers vote to dissolve.
“I think there’s a benefit for the study,” said Ken Delafrange, a resident and former village trustee.
Whether the village residents ultimately choose to dissolve or not, the information gathered during the process could help increase efficiency and make residents more aware of how their local government operates, he said.
‘VOTE IN DARK’
“The bottom line is the economics,” said 26-year village resident Kevin Triller, who initiated the petition.
He said he asked the Village Board in 2011 and 2012 to do a study similar to the one that would be conducted should residents vote to dissolve.
The board refused, he said.
Because the study wasn’t conducted, residents are “voting in the dark,” Triller said.
Landowners pay taxes and receive little in return, he said.
“The village has a handful staff that essentially do nothing,” he said. “The town picks up everything.”
Controversy aside, both the mayor and Triller said they were happy to see the meeting so well attended.
“I’m glad to see as many people here no matter what their thoughts were, to see them educated,” Triller said.
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