WILSON – The proposal that Village of Wilson residents will consider at the polls today will ask, simply, whether they are in favor of dissolving the village. But the issue is much more convoluted than that.
If the majority of residents vote in favor of dissolution, the Village Board will have seven months to devise and approve a dissolution plan. Once approved, the board then must hold public hearings and possibly amend and adopt the final plan.
If the majority of the public doesn’t like that final plan, residents have 45 days from its adoption to file another petition forcing a second vote on village dissolution.
That petition requires the signatures of at least 25 percent of the registered voters. This village of 1,300 people had 842 registered voters in its March elections . And if the referendum fails Tuesday, no one is permitted to pursue dissolving the village again for four years, according to state law.
Mayor Bernard J. Leiker Jr. said he feels that the supporters and dissenters are pretty evenly split in this small lakeside community.
“Every vote that happens here in the village is always very close, and we always have a large number of voters come out,” Leiker said. “Our last election for trustee (in March) was won by four votes. I won by 17.
“My employees are afraid they will lose their jobs, so they will vote ‘no,’ and their families and friends will vote ‘no,’ ” he said. “And you have people who will vote ‘yes’ because they think dissolving the village will save them some money.”
The village has six full-time and two part-time employees, an elected mayor and two trustees who receive stipends and a paid village attorney.
The village has been awarded $50,000 as part of the Local Government Efficiency Program managed by the state Department of State, which provides local governments with funding and support to plan and implement municipal reorganizations.
But Leiker, long critical of the way the state handles the process, pointed out that because the feasibility study, by state law, follows the vote, “this forces people to jump into the dark, not knowing what will happen, and that’s not fair.
“The study should be done first, so people have an opportunity to vote from a position of information, but they don’t,” he said. “This is really very deceptive because people are being asked to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for dissolution, but they’re really voting on whether a plan should be done, and then a second vote would be on dissolution.” He said he “absolutely” believes that 25 percent of voters – roughly 200 people – would support a second vote.
“I’d be the first one to walk the streets to get signatures for a second petition to force another referendum if this study didn’t show that we would save a lot of money and still have the same services,” he said. “But if it did show that it would save money, why wouldn’t we dissolve?”
Charles F. Horton, who has lived in the village all of his 70 years, has two reasons. “We would lose our identity as a village, and we would lose our voice in local government,” he said.
The former town historian noted, “Wilson has been a village for 156 years, and people have poured money into it and made improvements and invested in all of this infrastructure, and now people want to walk away from it?
“The work still has to be done, the roads have to be plowed, the sewers cleaned and the infrastructure maintained, and we will need roughly the same number of people to do the work,” he said. “Studies have shown that in all of the villages that have dissolved in this state, the gain has been about 5 percent savings, and over time, even that becomes a wash.”
Arthur Lawson, a village resident since 2005, refers to different studies.
“I’ve read a lot of studies on the Department of State website, and I do not see where we could go wrong,” he said.
“People might think we could save only a small amount, but even a small amount can make a big difference, especially to someone on a fixed income,” he said, adding that he has also seen studies where savings could range from 40 to 60 percent.
The father of two young children added that through his involvement in community sports, “I see parents’ financial struggles in trying to pay registration fees. Little things really do make a difference.”
The Indiana native said that his wife is from Western New York and that they moved here looking for “a nice, quiet little village where, 30 years from now, our children could also live someday. But with the cost of taxes, I don’t see how that will be possible.” He acknowledged that “this is kind of a touchy issue. That’s why I just want people to have more information. … It’s hard to separate fact from emotion when you’re dealing with a village this small.”
The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. in Town/Village Hall, 375 Lake St.