Ridgeway, Shelby state their opposition to Medina dissolution

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 15 January 2015 at 12:00 am

‘Dissolution has divided friends, neighbors and families. This cannot go on.’ – Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli

Photos by Tom Rivers – Shelby Town Supervisor Skip Draper, right, responds to a question about village dissolution. He is joined by Councilman Dale Stalker during a meeting at the Medina High School Auditorium attended by more than 300 people.

MEDINA – A big crowd of about 300 people attended a public meeting by the Town Boards in Shelby and Ridgeway on Wednesday night. The town officials stated their strong opposition to the dissolution of the Village of Medina.

Villagers shouldn’t expect the towns to pick up the level of services currently provided in the village, officials from both towns said.

Medina Mayor Andrew Meier and other supporters of the dissolution plan see it as a restructuring of services that eases the tax burden on village residents, shifts some costs to the towns and brings in much-needed state aid.

But Jeff Toussaint, Ridgeway town councilman, called it a divisive effort that will only push costs onto the towns. He said the plan has residents outside the village fretting about “unbearable tax hikes.”

“The dissolution plan promoted by One Medina will not unite Medina but ruin it,” Toussaint said.

Ridgeway Town Board members David Stalker, right, and Paul Blajszczak both voiced their opposition to village dissolution. Stalker lives in the village and he said he enjoys the heightened services which come at a higher cost.

Village residents will vote on dissolution from noon to 9 p.m. on Jan. 20 at the Senior Center.

Residents won’t be voting on a specific dissolution plan. They will decide whether or not the village government will continue.

Shelby Town Supervisor Skip Draper and Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli both said the dissolution plan doesn’t save nearly enough money to justify eliminating the village government and creating new layers of government bureaucracy, including special districts, a local development corporation and additional burdens on the two towns.

The plan identifies $277,000 in cost savings and $541,000 in additional state aid for $818,000 in overall benefit. (Click here to see the dissolution plan.)

But with combined budgets of more than $10 million, the $277,000 was called a small amount in operational savings.

“I don’t trust the math,” Draper said. “It’s very clear these are all estimates.”

Draper said he is dubious there would be any savings at all because the plan only calls for adding one full-time position to the police department, which would go from covering the village to both towns, or from 3 square miles to 98. If four police officers were needed that would offset the $277,000 in identified cost savings.

Gary Lamar, president of the Shelby Volunteer Fire Company, said the Medina Fire Department is critical to ambulance and fire service for Western Orleans County. He doesn’t want to see the Medina Fire Department disrupted through dissolution.

The town officials said they want to recommit to shared service discussions. Draper said the communities have established a record of cooperation before through courts and assessing services. He sees benefits to the village if the towns took over all plowing and street maintenance. However, if villagers want sidewalk plowing, they could pay for that and other “enhanced services,” Draper said.

The Shelby town supervisor sees the two towns providing “baseline services,” with village residents paying for additional services such as police.

Meier has said shared services don’t do enough to ease the significant tax strain on village residents. Villagers pay a combined tax rate of $54 per $1,000 of assessed property. Moving outside the village can knock about $12 off that combined tax rate, a significant disparity and major disincentive to invest in the village, the mayor has said.

The village tax rate would drop about $6, according to the dissolution plan. Ridgeway residents outside the village in 2013 paid 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 2013 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.

But the town officials don’t buy the numbers, particularly with the costs for police.

Paul Hendel served as moderator for the meeting at Medina High School.

Shelby Town Councilman Steve Seitz said the plan wasn’t well thought out and didn’t include input from the town officials. He told the village officials they shouldn’t quit on the village. He urged them to come back to the table and find more ways to share services and cooperate.

Ridgeway Town Councilman Paul Blajszczak described the dissolution plan as “radical and premature.”

He urged village residents “to elect candidates interested in productive collaboration.”

The town officials were asked to be specific in how the taxes could be cut for village residents. Shared services was a refrain among the two towns.

Napoli, the Ridgeway supervisor, said the dissolution push has stirred the passions of the community – for the wrong reasons.

“Dissolution has divided friends, neighbors and families,” Napoli said. “This cannot go on.”

Ridgeway Town Supervisor Brian Napoli speaks against dissolution, saying the community should preserve the village. Jeff Toussaint is at right.

Ed Weider is one the proponents of “One Medina,” an effort that seeks to dissolve the village and merge the two towns. He spoke after several residents and town officials spoke about the beautiful downtown and historic flavor of the community.

Weider said there is another part of Medina, and it is growing: decay. He travels the village in a motorized wheelchair. He sees lots of vacant houses and properties being neglected.

Dissolving the village and merging the towns would lower government costs and bring in much needed state aid, helping to pay for services and lower residents’ tax bills, Weider said.

“i don’t think we can afford to maintain the status quo,” Weider said.

Weider praised the two town boards for their presentation on Wednesday night. The boards have proven they work well together and are willing to face community challenges. Weider urged them to support the village dissolution, to bring a unified and streamlined voice to local government.

Ed Weider addresses the two town boards before about 300 people on Wednesday night. Owen Toale is at right, holding the microphone for Weider.

The town officials were asked if they had been approached about a merger of the two towns. They said they hadn’t. Blajszczak said they would have to consider the issue if there was a citizen petition.

But he doubted there would be significant savings because there would still be the same amount of work with water, sewer, street maintenance and plowing, and other services.

“Would a merger save money?” Blajszczak said. “That’s an assumption.”

Some of the residents asked the town officials what the village residents get for the $1.1 million villagers pay to the two towns annually. Draper noted assessing and court for sure.

“The amount of service from the town is minimal at best,” resident Dick Berry responded to Draper.

Berry said he wished more of his local taxes could be directed to the village, which is doing the bulk of the work.

“There has to be a better way,” Berry said.

The town officials were also urged to press for more sales tax revenue from the county and to demand more municipal state aid from New York.

Proponents of dissolution will have a public meeting on Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Medina Theatre. That meeting will include Don Earle, Seneca Falls town supervisor. He will share his community’s experience with dissolution, discussing impacts on taxes and services, and the community’s reaction to the changes.