CHAMPLAIN — When Dr. John Southwick was growing up, Village of Champlain’s downtown had three grocery stores, two clothing stores, two hardware stores, two restaurants, a furniture store and a post office.
“I’ve witnessed, for what it’s worth, the whole destruction of the Village of Champlain,” said Southwick, who is 80 and has lived in the municipality for 65 years.
Even so, he wants more information before he decides whether it makes sense to dissolve village government.
So, he will vote “yes” at the referendum on the issue on March 19.
If the majority does so, the Village Board will be obligated to conduct a study that would detail how dissolution would occur, with the Town of Champlain assuming governance.
“Both the town and the village have to sit down during the dissolution study and talk about these things and what will work for both entities,” Mayor Greg Martin said.
After the plan driven by that study is complete, villagers can petition for another public vote on the issue. If that doesn’t happen, village government would disappear.
Residents are torn about the fate of their village.
“I’m kind of teetering,” said Patricia Gladd, 61.
The village is visibly deteriorating, she said.
“It’s really depressing.”
The village is typical of many — most of its retail moved from downtown or established itself on busier Route 11, many stores are located in the strip mall anchored by Price Chopper.
Downtown fell victim, too, to flooding caused by ice jams on the Great Chazy River; some years ago, a federal buyout eliminated numerous homes and buildings that had one time made up a bustling area.
Village-run services that have been eliminated over the years include the police department and court.
“Little by little, the ability to pay for necessities is diminishing. And what’s remaining is the water and sewer plant,” said Kevin Triller, who heads the dissolution effort.
“I think village government is a layer of government that is most responsive,” Martin countered.
Village residents have benefited from services taken over by the town, said Martin.
“If you’re going to talk about the loss of a fire department, it became a town service (as a the town-wide Champlain Fire District). It became better financed,” Martin said. “It’s not a town service; it’s a community service.”
While the Police Department was eliminated several years ago, the mayor said, the village receives “exemplary service” from U.S. Border Patrol, State Police and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department.
“We get the same services, but it’s less expensive to the village,” he said.
Southwick said he feels the amount he pays in taxes is equivalent to the services he receives from the village.
“I think they do a good job,” he said. “I’ve always been pleased with the village crew.”
He referenced a recent water-main break.
“They were right on top of it.”
Catherine Gooley, 66, said the Public Works Department does a good job of clearing the snow off the sidewalks, allowing village residents who don’t have cars to walk to work or the grocery store.
“I don’t think I pay an awful lot of money for these services,” she said.
“I hope people won’t just vote (yes) because they think they will save a lot of money in taxes, because there’s no guarantee,” she said.
Gladd thinks just the opposite: “We’re taxed extremely high.”
If dissolution could save taxpayers money, it might be the best option, Southwick said.
“I’m a big believer in combined services if it can be done,” he said. “I suppose the bottom line would be savings.”
The aging population of the village is a problem for its future, Gladd said.
Young people who grow up there leave because of the lack of job and and entertainment options, she said.
“Most of the people in the village that own property are older people. There’s not enough to draw the younger ones here.”
Driving through the village, a “for sale” sign can be seen on almost every street, Gladd said.
“Nobody is willing to buy.”
While those opposing dissolution acknowledge the village has changed significantly over the years, they don’t think that’s reason enough to dissolve its government.
“There’s too many unknowns,” Gooley said of the dissolution process. “It was a beautiful village to live in, and it still can be.”
As an alternative, she thinks villagers should generate ideas about how they can revive the community.
“We need to get a few more stores,” she said.
If the village majority votes “no” for dissolution, another petition cannot be brought forth for four years.
“We can always bring it up again by the board if it becomes necessary,” Gooley said.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Like Gooley, village resident Beverly Maynard, 78, be voting “no” for dissolution.
“I’m against the village dissolving because I don’t think there will be a big difference if the town took us over,” Maynard said. “Abolishing the village will kind of take the heart out of the village.”
Emotions sometimes influence the opinions of residents when it comes to dissolution.
“You become attached to it,” Maynard said. “We’re all kind of a family here.”
Despite the possibility that it could cease to exist, the village continues to operate as usual.
Newly hired Superintendent of Public Works Michael Jolicoeur started work Feb. 18.
“I was very up front with him,” Martin said.
He said he told Jolicoeur that, judging from his own conversations with villagers, most of them do not wish to dissolve.
Martin recently stepped down from the Clinton County STOP-DWI Advisory Board after 25 years.
“I resigned because I needed more time to work on the village,” he said.
“People are just kind of like a family here,” Maynard said.
Whatever the outcome, many are likely more informed about how the government operates than they were previously.
“It’s the majority vote that will count either way,” Triller said. “If anything comes out of this vote, it has inspired people on both sides to get involved and start thinking more about their community.”
Email Felicia Krieg: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPCOMING MEETING AND VOTING DATES
The next Village Board regular monthly meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at the Champlain Village Office. The next Village of Champlain dissolution meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Oak Street. Both are open to the public.
Villagers will weigh in on dissolution at the village election, set for noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19, at the Village Office.