Pros and cons of dissolution aired in debate

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 11 January 2015 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Former Village of Medina Trustee Owen Toale, left, and current Trustee Mike Sidari share their views on why they oppose dissolution of the village government, which goes to a vote on Jan. 20.

MEDINA – Two sides, one for dissolving the Village of Medina government and the other in favor of keeping it, shared their views during a debate on Orleans Radio this afternoon.

Dissolution opponents say Medina Mayor Andrew Meier has pushed too hard and too fast for dissolution before exhausting possibilities of shared services and cooperation with the towns of Ridgeway and Shelby.

Village Trustee Mike Sidari and former Village Trustee Owen Toale say dissolution would result in less services for villages residents, and they are doubtful they would see much tax savings.

“I’m disappointed we basically had this dissolution vote shoved down our throats,” Toale said in the debate. (Click here to be directed to Orleans Radio, and then click on the podcast to hear the debate.)

Meier and OneMedina leader Dean Bellack spoke for dissolution, which goes before village voters on Jan. 20 from noon to 9 a.m. at the Senior Center.

The village has suffered from falling tax assessments, a shrinking population and rising tax rates, the two said.

Meier said the village government is an unsustainable model. A dissolution plan would preserve existing services while reducing the tax rate in the village by $6 per $1,000 of assessed property.

(The vote on Jan. 20 will be whether or not the village should dissolve, and won’t be about a specific plan.)

OneMedina leader Dean Bellack, left, and Medina Mayor Andrew Meier both spoke in favor of the village dissolution, saying it would reduce taxes, making the community more attractive for residents and businesses.

The village has been forced to pare back some services and cut back on employees in recent years, Meier said. He only sees more reductions without a major change in how the services are provided.

“We will see declining services and staff until we fix this problem,” he said.

The $54 overall tax rate in the village is the highest in the Finger Lakes region. It is a major disincentive for investment and retaining and attracting residents and businesses, Bellack said. Meier said the high tax rate in the village has trapped the community “in a downward spiral.”

Bellack said dissolution would be a first step in reducing government costs and drawing more state aid for the community. If the village dissolves, OneMedina will then push to have the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway consolidate into one. That would provide a more efficient government, and also give the community more clout, Bellack said.

Without dissolution and its promise of reduced taxes, Bellack only sees more decline in the village. He also worries for the current village workforce with the existing village model.

“If I were a village employee I am working for a municipality that is running out of money,” Bellack said.

Sidari believes there can be savings with more shared services, perhaps through code enforcement and clerk functions, as well as highway duties.

Meier said there won’t be significant savings by “tinkering” with shared services. The village will still be stuck in a model that oppresses village residents, he said.

Sidari said the village should press for more state funding through Aid and Incentives to Municipalities. Villages only get $7 per capita in AIM while cities get an average of $277 per capita. Sidari would like to see all of the local municipalities pass resolutions, and see if a movement can spread around the state for fair treatment in AIM for the villages.

“We’re not going to get anything if we don’t ask for it,” Sidari said. “It’s time to fight for what is ours.”

Meier said dissolution would provide $541,000 annually in new state aid. That is a state law to encourage dissolution, he said.

Toale and Sidari both said they have misgivings if the state would come through each year with that money.

Dissolution also would provide $277,000 in efficiency savings, which is less than 3 percent of the village and two towns’ budgets. That is a narrow margin, dissolution opponents said.

Bellack and Meier both see more savings through attrition as employees retire and village debt is paid down.

If the dissolution vote fails on Jan. 20, it can’t be brought up again for at least four years. If it passes, the village and towns would have at least two years to implement a transition plan.

Bellack said the community needs a change, otherwise it could see more population loss and higher taxes.

“People are choosing not to live in the village,” Bellack said. “That is our story. Nothing our opposition says will change that.”

Toale said he hopes the dissolution vote fails, and the community gets more time to pursue shared services. He believes significant savings and partnerships can be reached while keeping the village government structure.

“There is more than one solution, but we haven’t worked hard enough to find it,” he said.

It will take strong leaders at the village and town levels, working for the good of the community, Toale said.