MEDINA – A plan to dissolve the Village of Medina, touted by Mayor Andrew W. Meier and supporters Thursday, showed the pros and cons of local government consolidation.
It would significantly reduce Medina’s property tax rates, which are among the state’s highest.
But it would also saddle the adjoining towns of Ridgeway and Shelby, which would take over the territory, with employees they may not want to retain, services they may not want to provide, and debt they might rather avoid.
Donald Colquhoun, chairman of the village dissolution plan committee set up by the Village Board, conceded that dissolving the village would increase taxes for residents of Ridgeway and Shelby who live outside the current village borders.
Meier said a referendum would be needed on the dissolution, but only village residents would be allowed to vote. According to state law, Ridgeway and Shelby residents outside the village would have no say.
The New York Department of State says 11 villages have shut down since 2009, including Pike in Wyoming County and Limestone, Randolph, East Randolph and Perrysburg in Cattaraugus County. The largest was Seneca Falls, which dissolved its village government at the end of 2011.
But in 2010, voters in Williamsville, Sloan, Farnham, Lakewood, Cuba and Brockport overwhelmingly defeated dissolutions.
Meier, who declined to predict the outcome if the Village Board decides to place the issue on the November ballot, said a 2011 feasibility study envisioned a triple consolidation, with the village and both towns merging into a single town that presumably would have been called Medina.
However, the towns withdrew from talks on implementing that because of disagreements over services.
Thursday’s proposal could dissolve the village without the towns’ cooperation or consent. “It does kind of force the issue, admittedly,” Meier said.
Town officials were absent from Thursday’s news conference. Calls seeking comment were not returned by Ridgeway Supervisor Brian Napoli or Shelby Supervisor Merle Draper.
The boundary between Ridgeway and Shelby splits Medina approximately in half, both in terms of area and of population. The village has about 6,000 residents, and another 6,000 people live in the two towns outside the village lines.
“What the mayor never says is, we’re at the mercy of the towns of Shelby and Ridgeway in terms of the programs they accept, the employees they accept. My impression is, they are skeptical,” commented Marcia Tuohey, former Medina mayor and former chairwoman of the Orleans County Legislature, who watched the news conference in what Medina chooses to call City Hall.
The village employs about 40 people, including 11 police officers and 13 firefighters, Meier said. Colquhoun told reporters that there would be no layoffs, but Meier acknowledged afterward that no matter what the village promises, the towns could get rid of the former village workers anyway.
“Nobody can prevent that,” Meier said. “Nobody can prevent an elected board from passing whatever resolutions they want.”
But the mayor added, “These are elected, accountable actors. They’re not acting in a vacuum.”
The towns depend on the State Police or the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office for police service – “with very long response times,” Meier said.
Those responses would be even slower if there were no police in the Medina area, said Meier. “That’s a large population to leave without a police force,” he said.
A fire protection district matching the village boundaries could be formed so fire levies elsewhere in Ridgeway and Shelby wouldn’t increase, Colquhoun said. But Meier said state law bars formation of a police district, so law enforcement costs for the former village couldn’t be isolated to those residents.
Colquhoun said the plan seeks to place the police officers on Ridgeway’s payroll. Then Shelby could contract with Ridgeway for their services, he suggested.
As for the village’s outstanding debt of about $1.6 million, Meier said a special “debt district” could be formed, using the current village boundaries, to tax only the property owners in the former village for debt service. Also, the village could sell off some of its equipment and real estate, applying the proceeds to the debt. Meier said.
The sum of the village, town, county, school and library tax rates in Medina is about $56 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, Meier said. The village itself accounts for $16.45 of that.
Colquhoun said ending the village on the terms in Thursday’s proposal would increase taxes in Ridgeway by about $3 per thousand, with an 81-cent tax rate increase in Shelby. Meier said the towns would be eligible for increased state aid if they subsequently merged.
But inside the former village boundaries, Meier projected the net impact, even with higher town taxes, would be a 30 percent rate reduction, saving the owner of an $80,000 home about $500 a year.
“Medina has so much potential,” Meier said. “Unless we unify and unless we fix our tax problem once and for all, we will miss the boat.”
Medina wouldn’t disappear from the map. It would still have a school district and a post office using the Medina name, as it would become an unincorporated hamlet like Sanborn or Olcott, to name two local communities that have post offices but no local government below the level of the towns that encompass them.
“We’re the same school district, the same ZIP code, the same post office,” said Shelby attorney Nathan Pace, head of a group called One Medina. “The towns of Ridgeway and Shelby can’t just sit back. They need to deal with this.”