Washington County Residents Ponder Village Dissolutions

Apr 4, 2014

Peter Gregg, a resident of the village of Greenwich in Washington County loves where he lives. He likened it to living in a Norman Rockwell painting.

“But the problem is that the taxes are too high,” said Gregg. “There’s a Town of Greenwich tax and a Village of Greenwich tax.”

Gregg said the taxes are “penalizing” to village residents.

Credit Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Gregg, who edits the local newspaper The Greenwich Journal, recently submitted a petition to the village board to dissolve the village government.

Gregg argues that the current overlap in services  between town and village is too much for taxpayers to pay for.  

“We have two fully equipped and staffed highway departments, we have two town halls sitting by side, we have five clerks, its just too overlapping of government to service this tiny little population of people.”

Gregg said he had no problems getting the necessary amount of voter’s signatures to submit the petition. Under law, ten percent of the village’s 1,028 registered voters were required to submit signatures

However, Greenwich town supervisor and village resident Sara Idleman is not in support of the voter petition. Idleman said she’d rather see increased shared services and collaborations, and that eliminating village government positions would still require the town to hire additional people to fill some spots.

And Idleman would rather see a proper study conducted first on a dissolution. Dissolution could put the town in a bind, including how to distribute fire, police and sewer services, as examples. To complicate things further, the Village of Greenwich itself is located in both the town of Greenwich and the town of Easton.

“Had they not filed the petition, the village was going to move ahead with an initiation to dissolve, which would have triggered a study first,” said Idleman.

Under current law, if the village trustees instead of voters had wanted a dissolution, a study would have to be conducted first.

However, Peter Gregg said taxpayers don’t need to wait for a study to realize they’re paying too much.

Late last month, local and state officials, provided more information on dissolution at a public meeting. On April 7th, the Village Board has scheduled a special meeting to set a date for the elector-initiated referendum on dissolution.

Wade Beltramo, General Counsel for the New York Conference of Mayors, who gave a presentation at Greenwich’s informational meeting, said it’s common to see village residents pay more taxes than town residents. When villages dissolve, village residents’ taxes often decrease, but town residents will often see an increase.

“Property owners, they kind of have to subsidize town operations. They pay town taxes and don’t necessarily get a commiserate level of service in return, and when a village dissolves, that goes away – despite the fact that [the town] may have to create five or six districts to provide the the services that the village was providing, and you may not be able to provide some services,” said Beltramo.

Villages in rural areas typically have much higher population densities than the town as a whole.

Meanwhile, a voter petition filed in the nearby Village of Salem also seeks dissolution. A petition was recently submitted by local hardware story owner Kyle Hunter, with 115 signatures, more than the 20 percent of the 498 registered voters required for submission.

Hunter said he wasn’t necessarily concerned about paying taxes to two entities but worries about the increasing price on the services provided.

“I’m not sure if the double-dipping and the over-taxation is the biggest issue here,” said Hunter. “It’s a mixture of increasing taxes and declining services,."

The Salem Village board must set a date for a vote on dissolution between 60 and 90 days, after certification of the petition.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in the run-up to the recently signed state budget, repeatedly called out New York’s “proliferation of local government.”

The town of Greenwich could benefit from $300,000 annually in property tax relief if the village of Greenwich is dissolved. While Peter Gregg stands behind the idea, Supervisor Idleman worries the funding would not continue in perpetuity.

NOTE: This report has been edited to include more information than the initial broadcast version.