Big crowd turns out for meeting on Medina dissolution plan

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 7 May 2014 at 12:00 am

Opinions run gamut, but most speakers oppose dissolution

Photos by Tom Rivers – Neil Sambovski of Ridgeway, outside the village, speaks against a dissolution of the village because it would drive up taxes for residents in the town outside Medina.

MEDINA – It’s been a topic of conversation for months in coffee shops and the community.

“Everyone has an opinion,” Don Colquhoun, chairman of the Medina Dissolution Committee, said about a plan to dissolve the village’s government. “If you talk to anyone in the village or in the towns, you have an opinion.”

Tonight residents were welcome to air their opinions in public, and many seized the opportunity.

“They’re diverting the tax from people in the village to people outside the village,” said Hannah Brant, a village resident with property in the two towns. “It’s driving a lot of fear into the community.”

Brandt was one of 300 people who attended a public meeting at Wise Middle School about the draft dissolution plan. It calls for dissolving the village of Medina and having its government services picked up by the towns of Ridgeway and Shelby, and other taxing districts or entities.

Colquhoun and the Medina Dissolution Committee approved a draft plan last month. Many residents spoke at the nearly the 2 ½ hour meeting and were against the village dissolution – for many different reasons. Their comments will be considered in any changes to the plan that would then go to the Village Board.

Don Colquhoun, chairman of the Medina Dissolution Committee, said the group will next meet in late May or early June to consider residents comments and whether the draft dissolution plan should be altered.

The Village Board will have public hearings if it decides to proceed with dissolution. It would then go to a public referendum for village residents only.

Several residents outside the village in the two towns said outside-village residents should have a vote as well. One resident called the plan “taxation without representation.”

The plan shifts some of the current villages expenses to the two towns, in particular to Ridgeway. Outside-village residents in Ridgeway would see a 46 percent increase in their town taxes while Shelby residents outside the village would see a 10 percent increase in town taxes. More village streets happen to be in Ridgeway, and so is Boxwood Cemetery, which would become the responsbilty of Ridgeway as part of the plan.

“If my taxes go up 46 percent, I’m leaving Orleans County,” said Neil Samborski of Ridgeway. “We can’t afford it.”

Village resident J.C. Hobbs said village residents have long been overburdened with taxes. He said there needs to be a push to reduce the village taxes.

“It’s all about fairness,” he said.

Village resident J.C. Hobbs said village residents pay too mch in taxes, especially compared to outside-village residents.

Village residents would see a drop ranging from 27 percent in Ridgeway to 34 percent in Shelby. The rate in Ridgeway would drop from $19.49 per $1,000 of assessed property to a projected $14.30, according to the plan. That $5.20 reduction would save a homeowner with a $70,000 house $363 a year in taxes.

Village residents in Shelby currently pay a combined $19.80 rate ($16.45 to the village and $3.35 to the town). That would drop 34 percent to $13.10 and would cut the tax bills from $1,386 for a $70,000 house to $917.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier said the current taxing structure artificially makes the village taxes about 20 percent higher than those just outside the village borders. Dissolving the village would make the tax rates more equitable.

He worries the current system funnels too much tax burden on village property owners. It is chasing away residents and investment, leading to blight and shrinking tax assessments.

“A healthy town requires a healthy village,” Meier said.

Even with dissolution, village residents will pay about $4 more per $1,000 of assessed property than the outside-village residents. The village debt would stay with the village property owners until it is paid off in abut a decade. That accounts for $2 of that projected tax rate. A new fire district also is suggested to maintain the Medina Fire Department.

The Ridgeway residents outside the village currently pay a $6.71 rate for town, lighting and fire protection. That would rise 46 percent to $9.83 if the village dissolves and services are picked up according to the plan.

Shelby residents would see a 10 percent increase with dissolution with the current rate for outside-village residents going from $8.36 per $1,000 of assessed property to $9.17. That would raise taxes for a $70,000 home from $585 to $642.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier said village residents are unfairly burdened with high taxes.

The committee is suggesting a new debt district, two lighting districts, a water/sewer local development corporation, and a new fire district. Ridgeway would take over a town police force that would be contracted to include Shelby, according to the proposal.

Former Mayor Marcia Tuohey said she expects taxes would increase overall because of the new layers of government that are less accountable to residents.

“In the long run we’d be abdicating a lot of our services for more money,” she said.

Marguerite Sherman, a new village trustee, also said dissolution would result in less efficient government, trading one layer for up to five.

She and Mike Sidari, another new trustee, made a point of saying they aren’t necessarily in support of dissolution. Sidari said he moved to the village 29 years ago because of the police protection and other services, which he said naturally results in a higher tax burden compared to the rate outside the village.

“If the village goes by the wayside, there will be less control and who knows where the taxes are going,” he said.

The plan sees $277,000 in cost savings and $541,000 in additional state aid for $818,000 in overall benefit. But with combined budgets of more than $10 million, the $277,000 was called a small amount in operational savings.

The number could have been higher, but the Dissolution Committee didn’t want to eliminate any jobs or curtail services.

Village resident Todd Bensley doesn’t think the savings are enough to warrant dissolution of the village. He thinks the tax burden could be cut with more shared services with the two towns, and a push to become the City of Medina. That would result in siginifciantly more in state aid. Right now Medina receives about $45,000 in state aid as a community of about 6,000 people. Similar-size cities, such as Salamanca, get nearly a $1 million in state aid.

The City of Sherrill has half as many people as the village of Medina, but gets nearly $400,000 in state aid, Bensley noted.

The average village property owner would see $363 in tax savings, according to the plan.

“That sounds good, but look at all of the things we’re losing,” he said.

Bensley serves on the Village Planning Board, which he said has been committed to preserving the downtown historic district, while also welcoming businesses.

“The residents have worked hard to make the village what it is and I want it maintained,” Bensley said. “The mayor is asking us to get rid of a village with a 182-year-old tradition to save a few hundred dollars.”

Bensley also said he didn’t like that the village’s reduction comes with an increase to residents outside the village.

“I don’t want to save money on the backs of my neighbors,” he said.

Dave Kusmierczak said state and federal policies have hurt small-town upstate New York, providing too little aid and too many mandates.

Several residents were critical that the Dissolution Committee didn’t include more representation from outside-village residents. Only Cindy Robinson, a  downtown business owner, lives outside the village. Other committee members include Colquhoun, Meier, Village Deputy Mayor Mark Irwin, Charlie Slack and Thurston Dale.

Meier said village residents are also town residents. The committee acted with the best interest of the community at heart, he said.

Leaders from the two towns and village met often in a consolidation and shared service study in 2011. The group suggested the village and two towns merge into one government entity. Meier and village officials wanted to make that happen, and town leaders said then a village dissolution would need to be the first step.

Meier said the bigger savings will come if the two towns join into one town, after the village dissolves. There would be more state aid and more cost efficiencies, bringing down the community’s overall, tax rate, Meier said.

In the mentime, he has sought concessions to village residents from the towns. Meier said village residents pay to plow and maintain village streets. They also are taxed for town streets. He wants an exemption in that portion of the town tax bill, which he said could knock $1 off the tax rate for village residents.

He cited the reconstruction of Gwinn  Street, a popular thoroughfare in the village used by school buses and other traffic. Village taxpayers footed the entire $900,000 cost for improvements to that street, depsite its widespread use by motorists outside the village.

Residents enter the gymnasium at Wise Middle School. They walk past a display showing the tax savings annually for residents in the village, depending on the assessment of the property. About 300 people attended the meeting.

Kit Trapasso is a retired psychologist at Medina Central Scool. He lives in the village and has witnessed an exodus of residents, not only from the village but Orleans County and Western New York. (The eight WNY counties all had a population loss from 2000 to 2010.)

Schools have experienced significant drops in student enrollment, prompting some districts, including Medina, to close a school. The Towne Primary School closed about two years ago.

“In New York State we are taxing ourselves to death,” Trapasso said. “I hope as a community we’re willing to work together to say let’s be in for a change.”

Trapasso said he favors dissolving the village and merging the two towns because it has the most savings and promise for reduced tax bills.

Tom McGrane, a retired teacher, said the dissolution process hasn’t gone well. The two towns have sent out information “that has been dividing us.” McGrane said Meier as mayor, Skip Draper as town supervisor of Shelby, and Brian Napoli as town supervisor of Ridgeway need to get over “turf wars” and find a solution for the high taxes.

“We need to really sit down and say let’s do it for the community,” McGrane said.