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After dissolution defeat, village and town leaders say they will try cooperation

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli talks with reporters after dissolution was defetated on Tuesday. Napoli said the town can find cost savings for the village through shared services

MEDINA – With residents casting a decisive blow against dissolving the village, Medina Mayor Andrew Meier and town leaders from Shelby and Ridgeway say they will work towards cooperation to reduce the costs of government in the community.

Meier pushed dissolution, seeing it as a way for a more efficient government for the Medina area, while also bringing in much-needed state aid.

The dissolution plan was fiercely opposed by the leaders from the two town governments, as well as village employees and many village residents. The referendum – “Shall the Village of Medina, New York be dissolved?” – was defeated, 949-527. By law, the issue can’t be voted on again for at least four more years.

Meier said the village faces the same challenges after the vote as it did to start the day.

“We still have a declining tax base, a shrinking population and climbing costs,” he said shortly after the results were announced. “Our sustainability predicament remains.”

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier said he looks forward to seeing proposals from the two towns on how to reduce government costs in the Medina community.

Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli said he wants to have serious talks with the village and Shelby town officials about shared services. He believes that cooperation among the municipalities can reduce taxes for village residents.

“The residents (through this vote) told us they want us to look at shared services,” Napoli said in the Senior Center, where many village and town officials, and other residents were gathered to hear the results of the vote.

David Stalker is a member of the Ridgeway Town Board who lives in the village. He sees the village is struggling and needs some help.

“We’ve been ready and willing to talk,” Stalker said about the Ridgeway officials.

He was among the group that waited for nearly 1,500 ballots to be counted, by far the most of an village vote in at least a generation.

Election Inspector Judy Szulis announced the results at 10:35 p.m. The polls closed at 9 p.m.

Stalker was like many of the residents who worried about the fate of the Fire Department and Police Department if dissolution had passed.

“I like having them and knowing they can be there in 3 minutes,” he said.

That was a common refrain from voters interviewed by the media on Tuesday. Residents said they don’t like their high taxes, but they said they didn’t want to lose a responsive police force and fire department.

“Taxes you can deal with, but the proper time for emergencies can’t be compromised,” said resident Peter Kaiser, 31.

He was one of several residents who wasn’t able to vote because he wasn’t registered. He said he assumed he could vote as a village resident, but he wasn’t recorded as registered by the Orleans County Board of Elections.

Tracy Cody had the same situation. She lives in the village, but unbeknownst to her, she wasn’t registered to vote.

She also owns land outside the village in Ridgeway. She went to the polls on Tuesday, concerned her town taxes would go up if dissolution went through. She also didn’t like the uncertainty with the police and fire department.

She supports the idea of one government for the community, with the two towns merged and a village dissolution to follow. She thinks consolidating the two towns is the first step.

“Combine everything into one,” she said.

It was a busy day for election inspectors with nearly 1,500 people voting at the Senior Center. Election inspector Norma Huth is at left wth inspector Judy Szulis at right.

Mayor Meier and supporters of OneMedina see merger of the two towns and elimination of the village as an ultimate goal for the community, providing a streamlined government, more state aid and a stronger political voice.

OneMedina saw dissolution of the village as a first step, but folding the village services into the towns, different taxing districts and an LDC for sewer services proved confusing to many people.

One woman, a life-long Medina resident at age 74, said there were too many unknowns if dissolution had passed.

“Everything is so unclear to everybody,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. “It’s been back and forth with the facts and there’s been too much fighting.”

Crystal Petry, 22, is a Shelby volunteer firefighter who lives in the village. She voted against dissolution. She said the Medina Fire Department, which includes paid firefighters, is critical to western Orleans County. She also thought it was unfair to residents in Shelby and Ridgeway outside the village who faced tax increases if the referendum had passed.

“There’s other ways of going about doing it,” Petry said. “Give the towns a chance.”

Steve Seitz, a Shelby town councilman, said Shelby welcomes the village officials for ongoing dialogue about sharing services.

“Hopefully we can get back to the table,” Seitz said.

Meier said he was encouraged by the 527 “yes” votes, 36 percent of the total. The 527 tops the number of people who voted in the last village election. Only about 400 voted last March.

He said dissolution could loom again because of the difficult situation the village faces. It has limited options for boosting revenue to pay for the services the community values so much. Meier said the village shouldn’t just raise property taxes. The $54 rate per $1,000 of assessed property (village, town, county and school taxes) is one of the highest in the state.

Election inspectors Mary Ann Arder, left, and Norma Huth count ballots. It took about an hour and half to record all of the votes.

Residents and businesses can save significant money in taxes just by moving outside the village and avoiding the village’s $16.44 tax rate. Dissolution would have chopped the overall rate by about $6 per $1,000, saving $420 for a village property owner with a house assessed at $70,000.

“Sometimes it takes time for people to warm up to this kind of transformational change,” Meier said. “We voted tonight. I can’t say if this will be the last vote on the issue. This is a conversation that will continue for years to come.”

He noted a vote to abolish the village court failed in its first vote but sailed through the second time in 2010.

Village Trustee Mark Irwin supported dissolution and was disappointed to see it be rejected. He noted a strong push from the dissolution foes – “They preyed on peoples’ misunderstanding.”

A dissolution plan would have preserved existing village services, realized $277,000 in efficiency saving and $541,000 in additional state aid.

“Right now the ball is in the towns’ court,” Irwin said.

Meier said he looks forward to seeing the ideas and plans from the two towns.

“I think we really need to figure out what the towns’ proposal are,” he said. “They have said, ‘There are better ways, there are better ways.’ All eyes are on them to follow through with what they said.”

The 1,476 who went to the polls on Tuesday is about half of the people who were eligible to vote. The village has 6,065 residents, according to the 2010 Census. Judy Szulis, an election inspector, was pleased by the big turnout.

“We’ve had people come out who had never voted before in a village election,” Szulis said. “There have been a lot of new faces in here today, which is a good thing.”