Dissolution foes step up effort in Medina

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 18 December 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – There will soon be about 250 signs out in Medina, urging village residents not to support dissolving the village government on Jan. 20. This sign is on East Center Street.

MEDINA – Dissolution opponents are stepping up their efforts to sway village residents not to support a dissolution vote on Jan. 20, saying the village will lose critical services and won’t see promised tax savings.

About 20 people, many of them village employees, met to distribute yard signs and talk strategy on Tuesday night at the Knights of Columbus. The group said they expect to soon have 250 signs out against dissolution.

They will be going door to door, and may put out a mass mailer.

Cindy Troy, president of the CSEA union for Orleans County employees, was at the meeting in Medina. She wants to see the village government stay intact.

“You can lose the things that make you identifiable as a community,” she said. “The Village of Medina could lose control over things they hold dear. They have a density of population. They have needs the people in the country do not.”

She worries if the dissolution goes through, other local villages will follow.

“We as a whole community need to be concerned about this,” she said about the dissolution vote. “Medina won’t be the last to look at it.”

A second anti-dissolution sign also has been put out.

A dissolution plan put together by a committee with help of a consultant suggested many of the village services be taken over the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway. The committee also proposed 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 committee’s report.

Mike Maak, a Medina firefighter, said there is no guarantee the town officials would put that plan in place. He is among the dissolution opponents.

The dissolution 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 is seen as a small amount in operational savings.

Village Trustees Mike Sidari and Marguerite Sherman both oppose the dissolution. Sidari is running a Facebook page – “Medina, This Village Matters.” Sidari also is helping to get anti-dissolution signs to residents. He said some of the signs have been stolen or damaged.

Sidari and Maak both would like to see the village push for other revenue without disrupting the village government and services. They want to see Medina press for more state aid and county sales tax dollars. Maak said the village should work to become a city, which would significantly boost its state aid and also spare village residents from paying town taxes.

The state hasn’t allowed a new city since the 1950s. Medina Mayor Andrew Meier sees little chance in the state approving Medina as a city, and the county has shown no openness to giving more local sales tax to villages.

Dissolution is one way to secure more state aid, and also run a more efficient local government, said Meier, who is part of the “One Medina” group that would ultimately like to see the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway merge into one town – “Medina.”

“One Medina” has had many signs out for months. The group also has a Facebook page with Dean Bellack and Meier fielding questions from the community, and trying to provide them with answers.

Meier sees dissolution as a way for village residents to shape their destination, without pleading for aid from the county and state, assistance that Meier thinks is unlikely to materialize if the village government remains. The state is providing incentives for dissolution, but gives very little to villages for “Aid and Incentives to Municipalities.” Most villages get less than $10 per person in AIM funding, while the state gives most cities at least $100 per person.

Maak thinks the county and state could be swayed to share revenue with the village.

“We haven’t tried,” he said about that effort. “With dissolution, we’re cutting our nose off to spite our face.”

Owen Toale, a former village trustee, believes the village and towns of Shelby and Ridgeway could reach sizable tax savings by sharing services and consolidating services. He faulted the village for setting a dissolution vote while there was still the prospect of shared services for the trio of municipalities.

“One Medina pushed for the vote while they were still in the middle of the (shared services) process,” Toale said. “That to me is poor.”

He is helping to get out the anti-dissolution signs.

“I’m interested in helping my village,” said Toale, a retired newspaper publisher.

Many village residents have been called in the past two weeks by PAF Opinion Research in Albany. The firm asks a series of questions about dissolution, seeking residents’ opinions.

Meier and “One Medina” say PAF makes many misleading statements. The firm, in a taped phone call to a local resident, says it was hired by “one of the larger unions in the state.” CSEA has denied hiring the firm. Orleans Hub hasn’t been able to verify who hired the firm.

In phone calls to village residents, PAF tells villagers that they will lose their local police. The service might be picked up by the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department, but response times will more than double. PAF attributes that claim to Meier.

The mayor said he never said that. He was on the Dissolution Committee that recommends a town-wide police force.

PAF makes a number of claims about the future of the village in a dissolution goes forward. The firm tells villagers there won’t be any tax savings if the village government dissolves.

“In villages that voted to dissolve themselves, the promised property tax savings never happened,” a survey worker told a village resident in a phone call. “Does hearing this make you lean against dissolving Medina or for dissolving Medina?”

A CSEA representative said the union didn’t put out the phone messages. However, the union said it knows about the phone calls and sees them as a way to gauge public opinion, and not influence village residents with their vote.

Meier has decried the calls as “push polling,” an attempt to intimidate and confuse residents into voting against dissolution.