Letting a village administer and vote on its own demise is like asking the kids to decide whether their parents should get divorced.
They’re going to stick with what’s familiar, what’s safe and what’s known. With rare exceptions, village residents are always going to support keeping the village intact, no matter how inefficient, expensive or outdated the might be.
If the state is serious about reducing the number of redundant governments and improving efficiency at the local level, it’s going to have to come up with a far more objective method than letting the affected community directly vote on it.
New York has 556 separate villages, ranging in population from 54,045 in the village of Hempstead to 14 in the village of Dering Harbor, both on Long Island. That’s in addition to 994 towns and cities, 62 counties and one big fat state government. And let’s not forget the 730 school districts, some with only a few dozen students.
Most of these governments are completely unnecessary and could be served more efficiently and effectively by a surrounding township. Yet the process for dissolving the villages and other small government entities like school districts is skewed heavily in favor of the status quo and heavily against change.
Under the current system, the communities and school districts being considered for dissolution are awarded money to study the concept, money that the affected governments control.
Their boards hire the dissolution consultants, whose first obligation is to serve the boards that hire them.
The affected boards hold the hearings, exclusive of the surrounding towns or school districts. They publish the literature. They control the meetings. They control the messages. They even write the ballot propositions.
In the case of the recently failed proposition in Schuylerville, the ballot language included a phrase very clearly implying that dissolving the village would mean residents would give up fire protection.
It was completely untrue. But it got into the language of the proposition because village officials who opposed dissolution had the final say over it.
Practicality, not emotion, need to be the deciding factor such decisions. One resident of Schuylerville said he voted against dissolution because he wanted to continue to honor the Revolutionary War general for whom the village is named. Really? That’s the kind of emotionally skewed reasoning that residents use to keep their villages and school districts, and another reason why the odds are stacked so much against dissolution.
One might argue that it should be up to the affected residents to decide what kind of government they should have. Why? There’s no constitutional requirement for villages. And we already have working flow chart for governance — federal, state, county, town, city/village. How much more government do we need? If smaller is better, why not assign a government to each city block or neighborhood?
If the state suddenly decided to eliminate all 556 villages, what exactly would be lost? Residents would still have representation on the town level, so there’d be no taxation without representation. Services currently provided by the village would continue under the town in most cases. Residents still need their roads plowed and their fires put out. Village residents could still keep their local identities.
Gen. Schuyler could still have his name on parks and buildings in Schuylerville, and even on the road sign identifying the hamlet. Just not on government stationery.
Do we seriously need a separate town and village of Argyle? A town and village of Fort Edward? A town and village of Lake George? Of Moreau and South Glens Falls? Are those villages so ungovernable as to require a separate government from the surrounding towns?
The same thing goes for schools. It makes absolutely no sense, for instance, that the Abraham Wing elementary school is its own separate school district when it could easily incorporate into the Glens Falls City School District without giving up its identity, its building or programs.
Small adjacent school districts like Hudson Falls, Fort Ann, Fort Edward and Argyle could have one administration instead of four and still provide a sound education.
Yet parochialism always wins out.
The only thing that fundamentally changes with dissolution of a government is that there ends up being less of it.
Yet despite the clear need to reduce the size of New York’s government in order to reduce taxes and inefficiency, the process for dissolving villages and school districts is expensive, time-consuming and in most cases, futile.
A better process might be for the Legislature to pass a bill calling for the elimination of any government entity with less than, say, 5,000 people, or of any school district with fewer than 250 students.
If the communities and districts don’t want to do it, then cut off state funding until they do. Give them a few years to work out the transfer of assets, then cut them loose.
The current system for dissolution doesn’t work. Villages and school districts do not like planning their own funerals.
If state lawmakers are serious about reducing the size of government, they’ll have to take charge and come up with a better way.
Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Editorial Page Editor Mark Mahoney and citizen representative Mike Wild.