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An impartial study conducted by the NYS Department of State would provide answers to questions about impacts
On Friday, May 13, the Greenburgh Town Board will meet in Special Session at 5 PM. One of the issues on the agenda relates to the Town Board’s consideration of new legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, requiring a one year moratorium on Village Incorporation, and the appointment of a NYS Committee to study the many unanswered questions related to the process and the equity of the current Incorporation process, as dictated by NYS Village Law. Below, please find a position paper outlining the need for a moratorium and the amendment of NYS Village Law to ensure protection for all residents of Greenburgh.
Paul Feiner, Greenburgh Town Supervisor
THE NEED FOR A MORATORIUM ON VILLAGE INCORPORATION, MAY, 2022
IT IS TIME TO TAKE A CLOSER LOOK AT THE 100 + YEAR-OLD NYS VILLAGE LAW AND AMEND IT TO MEET CURRENT NEEDS AND PROVIDE STANDARDS/PROTECTIONS FOR ALL GREENBURGH RESIDENTS.
Attempts to amend NYS Village Law, which provides the guidelines for the incorporation of a territory into a separately incorporated village in NYS, have been a “political football” for at least the past six years, currently emanating from campaigns to incorporate in Westchester, Orange, and Suffolk Counties.
For the most part, those groups wishing to incorporate, represent small, wealthier areas, with few African American and Latino residents, attempting to gain fuller control of their governance. However, incorporation causes the removal of the substantial property tax base of these areas, from a larger municipality populated by people with smaller median incomes and less expensive homes. One of the most prevalent questions for those wishing to incorporate always seems to center on, “why should we subsidize poorer sections of our community.”
Beyond the issues which many believe render the incorporation process as perpetuating racial and economic segregation, the current inequitable NYS Village Law additionally fosters unequal voting rights, as only those registered voters residing in the territory wishing to incorporate may vote in the referendum. Not only are those members of the remaining community most deleteriously affected, barred from having a vote, but their plight is not even considered. In addition, the effects of incorporation on the larger remaining town government’s ability to provide services to its remaining residents, with now substantially diminished property tax revenue, is not considered either.
Those individuals residing in the proposed village are also rendered vulnerable by current NYS Village Law, as there are no requirements or standards for the incorporating group to report critical information, including from where services will come, the level of services, how they compare to those provided currently, remarkably, nor their cost. There are no requirements for providing operating budget projections and none for capital costs, as well. There is no government entity tasked with reviewing the accuracy of information disseminated to the community by the incorporators nor is any required. Verified information related to fiscal projections and service levels and an outside opinion on the economic and social feasibility of an incorporation, for both those residing in the proposed village and those left behind are non-existent.
In addition, the 100-year-old NYS Village Law leaves unanswered, myriad administrative, and moral questions, which will certainly lead to if not require litigation, should the referendum be successful. A partial list follows:
1- Why should the vast majority of those within the larger municipality be barred from voting or even being considered, in a decision which will impact heavily on their lives?
2- Why should a municipality, the town which provides life safety and quality of life sustaining services to its residents, have no voice in such a decision?
3- The current NYS Village law structure does not have a mechanism which would allow a village “formation committee” to negotiate any potential future contracts. Based upon these groups having “no legal standing,” any decisions related to budget, services and new village operation may not be decided until several months after the actual vote in a referendum, when a new village board is elected. Why should residents be forced to vote “blindly?”How might contracts for services be negotiated for those residents of the proposed village, prior to voting in a referendum?
4- Why should those residents of the proposed village who are eligible to vote in the referendum need to rely on un-vetted information, prepared by interest groups, without legislated requirements or review. Why is there no requirement for confirming from where and how services will be provided, and their cost? Why does NYS Village Law have no requirement to present formal vetted, projected operating and capital expense projections, for both the proposed village and the remaining town?
5- The question of a minimum population requirement needs to be re-visited, as small communities may by formed within larger municipalities and regulate themselves in a manner which may not meet the needs of the larger community. In the year 2022, how many residents should constitute a Village?
6- In a time where consolidation of municipal services appears to be trending, how might a new village contract to purchase services from its former town be handled? How is a formula for the purchase of services determined? How much should be charged? How long must a contract be? Must or should a town provide such services to a new village if it is not beneficial to the town?
7- Existing municipalities have liabilities, including bond debt, outstanding payables, post- employment obligations, pensions, etc. What percentage of those obligations remain the responsibility of the proposed village, as these liabilities were accrued during the period the proposed village was still a part of the larger municipality? How should they be paid and when?
8- Municipalities have assets! Does a new village have the right to any portion of those assets?
9- Municipalities own property and operate programs which may exist within the geographic boundaries of a new village. Who would own/operate, pay for those properties, post-incorporation and how and at what cost would those properties transfer, if they did?
10- Municipalities provide or oversee services which might be designated for the use of only those residing in that municipality. How would the loss of those services to residents of the new village be handled? How would services such as water/sewer and parking be provided and at what cost, as such authorities are separated from the town government? How can parks and recreation services be shared with a new village?
11- The petition process is amorphous and antiquated. Why is there a need for names of individuals residing in the proposed village, when census statistics are readily available?
12- Current Village Law requires a description with “geographic certainty” of the borders of a proposed village and offers a series of models for establishing such boundaries. However, the choices offered in the current legislation rely on 100-year-old surveys, and property descriptions of boundaries that no longer exist. Why not have Village Law require a recent survey, possibly within 5 years, performed by a NYS licensed Surveyor/Engineer, provide such a description utilizing current landmarks and street locations?
13- Should a new village have the right to choose any territory, without limitation, deciding who shall be in the new village and who shall not? The question of what existing municipal entity may be determined to constitute the boundaries for a new village is quite amorphous. Should it be a school district, fire district, what else? Can it be any territory identified through a survey and what rights would exist for those left behind?
14- In a time of decreased voter turnout and voter apathy, many elections and referendums are passed with an embarrassingly small number of votes. Should not such an important decision by a community require at least a minimum percentage of the participation of voting residents, a third, a half?
The questions noted above are just a few of many which remain unanswered, as the NYS Village law when written, could not have anticipated the issues of incorporation in 2022. It is clear, that a moratorium on incorporation in NYS is critically needed and immediately, so that the NYS Legislature can appoint and empower a committee to look more closely at the issues related to NYS Village Law regarding voting rights, racial and social discrimination, and economic impact, and additionally determine a standard of minimum reporting requirements and government analysis and oversight which creates an equitable and transparent process for village incorporation, for all concerned.