Press-Republican

October 29, 2012

Dissolution 'not insurmountable'

By DENISE A. RAYMO
Press-Republican

---- — MALONE — The Village of Seneca Falls dissolved in 2011, making it the most recent example of dissolution in New York.

Wade Beltramo, general counsel to the New York State Conference of Mayors, was in Malone recently to talk about dissolution and what villagers could expect if they vote Nov. 6 to dissolve the Village of Malone.

He said no two communities are alike, so any cost savings in Seneca Falls may not apply in Malone.

TOWN, VILLAGE IMPACTS

“There was a significant decrease in taxes (for former village property owners), and costs shifted,” he said of Seneca Falls.

According to the Seneca County Real Property Tax Service Office, the town tax rate went from 65 cents per $1,000 of assessed-property value in 2011 to $3.96 per $1,000 in 2012, after the tax burden was spread to include former village property owners.

According to the Town of Seneca Falls website, the tax rate in the former village went from $16.93 per $1,000 in 2010 to $5.49 per $1,000 in 2011 and will remain that way in 2013.

“The town has a landfill, and the village had no benefit from that, so there was a huge disparity” between what village property and town property owners paid, Beltramo said.

“That was the impetus of the dissolution (for the village).”

 Seneca Falls Town Supervisor Don Earle confirmed the shift.

“People living in the town outside the village were hit the hardest because they had always paid a lower rate because of the revenue from our landfill,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Now, it’s spread more equally.”

FIVE-YEAR PLAN

Seneca Falls brings in between $2 million and $3 million a year in landfill revenue and that allowed the town to keep taxes low or flat.

But the newly created town plans to use some of the revenue to improve infrastructure and encourage economic development before the landfill closes in the next 10 to 20 years.

Dissolution “was the first transition, and now we’re going to look at what to plan for,” Earle said.

“We’ve created a five-year asset-management program which is looking to better understand our assets and create a maintenance plan so we’re able to stretch the costs out over time. That’s something we didn’t do before the merger.” 

‘FAIRLY SEAMLESS’

In Malone, Beltramo referenced Seneca Falls a number of times, saying dissolution was difficult for the town.

“Seneca Falls had a rough transition, trying to take on a full-service village,” he said.

He said it was difficult for the town to absorb unionized workers, which added to the transition costs.

“It was a shock to town government. I can’t look and say that’s going to happen here,” he said.

But the town supervisor disagrees with many of Beltramo’s claims.

“There is a team of people who are going around saying that dissolution is insurmountable, but this is just not true,” he said.

“I took office the first of the year, and everyone thought services were going to come to a screeching halt, we were going to fail, and it’s not going to work.

“However, speaking generally, the transition has been fairly seamless. For all the services we took over, there was no gap of services to anybody. Whether it was for sewer or trash collection, there were no gaps at all.

“Has it been challenging? Yes, but mostly because there were issues we were first seeing in the town because the village hadn’t been attending to them for a number of years.”

He pointed to the pump station for the sewer system that needed upgrading. Also, just before the former Village Board left office, it raised the water and sewer rates, something the village had not done since 2003.

TOWN-WIDE POLICE

Earle said Beltramo’s assertion that Seneca Falls was overwhelmed by taking on union workers “is all fabricated.

“When dissolution took place, it fully negated all unions,” the supervisor said. “After the first of the year, the police re-unionized, but they haven’t asked us for anything. All other departments are not unionized.”

Police coverage was also a big issue in his community, and the town went with a town-wide patrol with the same number of full-time officers (12) and a chief, as well as some part-time staff to help reduce overtime costs.

The Seneca Falls Police Department also went to a 12-hour shift, and it gets support from patrols out of the Seneca County Sheriff’s Department, New York State Park Police and State Police officers from Troop E.

“We’re very fortunate to have that support, and there have been questions about the need for a town-wide force,” he said.

“But the people who have the sheriff, the State Police and Park Police now have an added town-wide force, and they are feeling better about it.

“There is not much controversy any more,” even if it is costing them more in taxes, Earle said.

Adding police coverage costs 59 cents per $1,000 of assessed-property value in Seneca Falls, “so if you have a house valued at $100,000, that’s $59 a year.” 

Earle said when Seneca Falls’ first year of dissolution concludes, he plans to offer to share what he, another Town Council member and the town engineer have learned to other communities considering dissolution.

“It’s not easy to dissolve, but we’re making it work.”

Email Denise A. Raymo: draymo@pressrepublican.com

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DISSOLUTION SERIES

This is another in a series of articles concerning the possible dissolution of the Village of Malone, which goes before voters on Nov. 6.

APPLES AND ORANGES?

Seneca Falls is often referenced as a fair comparison to Malone, since both have been touched by the issue of dissolution.

Seneca Falls made the transition in 2011, and Malone voters have a referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 6 election.

Wade Beltramo, general counsel to the New York Conference of Mayors, said Malone residents should be aware of the demographic differences between communities when making their decision. "There are 932 towns; some are rural outside villages, and others are urban. But they have different economic and demographic factors," he said.

Here is a breakdown of some of those factors, using information from the U.S. Census posted on www.city-data.com:

Population (2010): Seneca Falls, 6,681; Malone, 5,911.

Community size: Seneca Falls, 4.43 square miles; Malone, 3.16 square miles.

Median household income (2009): Seneca Falls, $44,652; Malone, $30,120.

Median home value (2009): Seneca Falls, $81,641; Malone, $72,988.

Monthly rental-property cost: Seneca Falls, $626; Malone, $574.

Home-heating methods: Seneca Falls, 84 percent natural gas; electricity,10 percent; electricity; propane, 2 percent; fuel oil, kerosene or wood, 1 percent. Malone, natural gas, 2 percent; electricity, 12 percent; propane, 4 percent; fuel oil or kerosene, 77 percent; wood, 3 percent.

Hospital care: Seneca Falls, closest hospitals 15 to 20 miles away. Malone, Alice Hyde Medical Center and $23.9 million of tax-exempt property within the village boundaries.

Poverty: Seneca Falls, 12.5 percent of people live in poverty; Malone, 24.8 percent.

Employment sources: Seneca Falls, 31 percent, manufacturing; 13 percent, construction; 7 percent, government service; and 6 percent, education. Malone, 7 percent, manufacturing; 10 percent, construction, 16 percent, government service; and 7 percent education.

Employees (2007): Seneca Falls, 44 full-time and 34 part-time; Malone, 47 full-time and 19 part-time.