Press-Republican

March 16, 2013

Champlain dissolution debated further

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Village of Champlain’s mayor is confident residents will vote down the dissolution proposal on Tuesday.

About 50 people attended a special dissolution meeting held recently at the Knights of Columbus hall in Champlain.

“I think the village will remain a village,” Mayor Greg Martin said after the meeting. “I’m very, very, very confident … I knock on a lot of doors and talk to people. They would like to see the village survive, and I think we will.”

But village resident Kevin Triller, a longtime supporter of dissolution who circulated the petition that prompted Tuesday’s vote, has a different perspective.

“I think it’s so close it’s going to be hard to call,” he said.

He hasn’t encountered anyone who initially signed the petition and is now against dissolution, he said, and some residents have switched and will be voting “yes” to ending village government.

The interest generated on the topic will likely make this vote the best attended in recent village history, Triller added.

’GOOD SHAPE’

Before Wade Beltramo, general counsel for the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYCOM), gave his presentation at the recent meeting, Martin addressed the crowd.

“The village is in very good financial shape,” the mayor said. “Things are going well here.”

Beltramo said that although the village pays a $778 yearly membership fee to NYCOM, the organization maintains a neutral position on dissolution.

Town Councilman Dennis Roberts attended the meeting at the request of village employees, Martin said.

CONFUSION

Some village residents said they are confused about what they are voting for Tuesday.

The vote is to dissolve the village, not to simply conduct a review, although the municipality will be obligated to do a study if residents vote “yes.”

If villagers vote not to dissolve, the dissolution process cannot be re-initiated for four years.

If the villagers vote “yes,” Village Board members must meet within 30 days and have 180 days to prepare a plan.

Beltramo said that time frame is impractical, and he encouraged the board to take longer than 180 days to develop a plan if they feel they need more time.

STOPPING DISSOLUTION

To stop dissolution once residents have initially voted in favor of it, 25 percent of the electorate must file a petition within 45 days of the date that the dissolution plan is approved by the Village Board. If that happens, another public referendum would take place.

That time constraint is not flexible, Beltramo said.

In New York state, it’s easier to submit a petition to dissolve a village than it is to vote down the board-approved dissolution plan after an initial “yes” vote, he said.

The law is so backward, he said, that he is trying to get the state to modify it and plans on submitting changes.

“I think it’s an inherently undemocratic process. They (the state) made it difficult on purpose” because they want villages to dissolve.

Of the possible alternatives to dissolution that Beltramo cited, he said the only likely or feasible options are the sharing of services, discontinuing of services or exempting the village from town taxes.

UNDERSTANDING

Village resident Chris Babbie found the meeting to be informative and helpful.

“I was just hoping there would be more people that would show up,” he said the next day. “I would like to have the villagers get involved because this is a big deal.”

Babbie said the presentation given by the New York State Department of State in early February confused him and other meeting attendees.

“You walked away from there, and you were unclear,” Babbie said.

Attendees were divided on whether this meeting made dissolution easier to understand or further confused village residents.

“I think it cleared up a lot of issues,” Martin said. “He (Beltramo) did a great job presenting both sides, what are the options.”

But Triller disagreed.

“This meeting just made things more complex than people can grasp or that people even want to attempt to grasp,” he said.

“To simplify the process, it boils down to we have a handful of village employees, a couple trucks and a few pieces of real estate that can be sold, and that’s it.”

Triller said the water and sewer districts are the only self-supporting village assets, and they are “the only thing that keeps this village alive.”

VOTING ‘BLIND’

The fact that no one knows exactly how dissolution would affect villagers is a huge factor in some of their voting decisions, Babbie said.

“We go in blind, as far as voting on the process. We don’t know what’s going to happen, what the town will do, what they’ll take over,” he said.

Beltramo wasn’t able to give specifics on how it would unfold, as it would be up to the village and the Town of Champlain to work out the details.

Triller said it’s not the process of dissolution that should be focused on at this point but the simple question of whether the village should dissolve.

“Look at the logic, look at the surroundings,” he said.

The current state of the village makes the reasons for dissolution obvious, Triller said.

“Look at the foreclosures in this village. Look at the depreciation. We haven’t had a house built here in three years. Now, both schools are closed.”

LIKE FAMILY

But some villagers believe that if they dissolve, they will lose more than a layer of government.

“Being a village, you have an identity. You’re like a large family. Once you dissolve, you lose that village identity,” Babbie said.

“You take away that closeness, you take away that sense of belonging ... and I think a lot of people feel and identify with the Village of Champlain,” Martin said in a debate he had with Triller recently for Home Town Cable, which produces local public-access programs.

SERVICES

Babbie fears there could be a loss or lower quality of services if the village dissolves and the Town of Champlain assumes complete governance.

“Everybody’s looking to save money. But you have to look at the flip side of the coin,” he said.

Triller said there aren’t many services to lose.

“When you want to start listing services, you really can’t.”

The services the village provides now are “nothing the town couldn’t do if we dissolved,” he said. 

Beltramo told meeting attendees that if the village dissolves, residents will lose the specific representation they have now.

“It begs the question: Are you going to have a voice?” he said.

The town office is only a few short miles down the road, and if the village dissolves, people can take their issues to there, Triller said.

“That’s just illogical that we’re not going to be represented, we’re not going to get fair treatment.”

Three town employees even live in the village, he said.

During the debate, Martin said he “has difficulty” saying he is comfortable with representatives outside the village setting his tax, water and wastewater rates.

“March 19 is coming up fast,” Babbie said.

“You have to get out and vote.”

Email Felicia Krieg:fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION The March 7 forum on Village of Champlain dissolution, with New York State Conference of Mayors General Counsel Wade Beltramo, can be viewed online at hometowncablenetwork.com. A debate between Mayor Greg Martin and village resident Kevin Triller, hosted by Calvin Castine and Home Town Cable, will air today and Sunday at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Time Warner Cable channel 24. It can also be viewed online at hometowncablenetwork.com. Archived Village Board meeting minutes can be found by going to www.vchamplain.com and clicking on "archived minutes" at the bottom of the page. Villagers will vote on dissolution at the village election, which will run from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Village Office. Reach the Village of Champlain Office at 298-4152, and the Town of Champlain Office at 298-8160.