West Seneca voters will decide next month whether to “upsize” the Town Board, returning it to five members after a three-year period of having only three members.
Erie County Elections Commissioner Dennis Ward confirmed that the measure qualified and would be placed on the general election ballot in West Seneca on Nov. 6.
A group of town residents had circulated petitions seeking a revote to undo a June 2009 citizens’ referendum rolling the Town Board back from five to three members. Then, just to be sure it made the ballot, the Town Board passed a resolution last week calling for the Nov. 6 vote on the board’s size during a special meeting.
“It was self-evident there were permits being circulated throughout the town to do this,” said John M. Rusinski, the board member who made the motion seeking to add the question to the general election ballot, saying that the citizens’ signatures obtained were “very close to the number” required to force a ballot proposition anyway.
If the requisite signatures weren’t received in time for November, West Seneca would have been forced to hold a special election on the question, which could have cost the town $10,000 or more, officials said.
“Furthermore, getting it in with the November election – and, it being a presidential election,” Rusinski added, “we’ll really get a pulse on what town residents want.”
Town Board members, who have at times lamented the limitations the Town Board faces with only three members, downplayed sentiments like those this week, saying instead that it is up for the voters to decide how many elected officials they want representing them at the town level.
“It definitely can be done. It’s definitely more challenging,” Rusinski said of the three-member board. “But, I want what the taxpayer wants. I speak for the taxpayers. If they want three, we can get it done.”
Added Councilman Eugene P. Hart, who opposed downsizing three years ago but says he’s indifferent on the issue now: “I can live with a three-member board or a five-member board. Whatever voters want, I’ll support it.”
Either way, West Seneca officials believe they’ll get a truer measure of how residents feel about the size of the Town Board in November because there will likely be far more votes tallied than the 10,497 cast in 2009.
Then, 6,245 came down in favor of regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan’s proposal that sliced the then-five-member board by 40 percent.
Gaughan’s name has been taken in vain at several points in and around West Seneca Town Hall over the last year by elected officials and residents alike after government has, in some cases, progressed at a glacial pace because of board members’ inability to communicate with each other outside of legally advertised town meetings.
“Your ability to communicate is not really there,” said Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan. “It’s ridiculous.”
Board members have complained over the last year about having to pass messages to each other through Town Attorney Shawn P. Martin in order to comply with the state’s Open Meetings Law.
Plus, promised help from proponents never materialized after the downsizing, according to town officials.
Meegan, who has been the most vocally opposed to the reduced size of the board, said she believes getting the five-member board back in place in West Seneca will make government more efficient and more responsive.
“There’s no savings involved here at this level of government,” Meegan said about a board with two fewer members, only “missed opportunities” to meet and adequately serve the needs of West Seneca residents.
If voters decide to return two seats to the board, it is expected that next November, voters would choose three Town Board members. The seat occupied by Rusinski, who is near the end of his first year in a two-year term, would be open, as would two additional seats.