September 5, 2012

Editorial: Let the people decide dissolution


---- — The Malone Village Board made the right decision in putting dissolution to a public referendum. We hope the Keeseville Village Board shows the same wisdom.

The two communities — Malone in Franklin County and Keeseville in Clinton and Essex counties — are both studying the concept of dissolving the village governments and letting functions be absorbed by the towns. That would be the Town of Malone for that northern village and the towns of AuSable and Chesterfield for Keeseville.

The idea of reducing government structure is always appealing because it will usually save money somewhere. That is why New York state has been moving increasingly toward offering incentives for communities to share services or consolidate governments.

The danger, of course, is that somehow it will cost more or that vital services might be lost. That is why it is important to have studies put together with the help of professional consultants and to get as much public input during the process as possible. But in the end, we feel, it must be the residents of the villages, not their elected leaders, who make the final decision about whether to dissolve the government.

In Malone, the study showed an anticipated savings of around $350 a year in taxes for village residents. Town taxpayers won’t save much, but they wouldn’t have to pay more, and that is noteworthy.

Dissolving Keeseville would also result in a tax savings: about $450 to $545 a year, depending where you live.

The sticky situation in Malone is what to do about the Village Police Department. Law enforcement is an important issue for any community, and residents are used to local coverage. Keeseville doesn’t have the same issue because it is patrolled by State Police, having eliminated its police force many years ago. 

But now that some possible savings from dissolution has been confirmed, the job of making the decision about whether to proceed needs to go to the people. Some Malone government officials were hesitant about the idea of a public vote and its timing, but they recently voted to hand the decision over to the residents by putting it on the ballot this November.

In Keeseville, Mayor Dale Holderman said he is leaning against dissolution because he doesn’t think the savings would be worth the lost services. He thinks he can turn the financial situation around in Keeseville. While we admire his confidence, residents shouldn’t have to bank on his hopes.

If the Keeseville Village Board members decide against a referendum, even for reasons they feel are justifiable, there will always be that suspicion that they were just fearful of losing their jobs. Residents can actually petition for a vote, but we hope it doesn’t have to come to that.

Government officials are put there by the people, with their salaries paid by taxpayers. The decision about whether their governance is needed should also belong to the people footing the bills.