The question posed to voters in Altmar could not be worded more clearly on the ballot: "Shall Altmar be dissolved?" Yes___ No ____. That's all New York State law requires. Wednesday voters in that small Oswego County village will check Yes or No. The power is truly in the hands of people. When you consider the referendum for dissolution originated from a single Altmar voter who started a petition driver, it really does put power in the hands of anyone looking for change.
This power sits in the New NY Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act which was passed by the state legislature in March. The Local Government Shared Services office administers the rules for communities wishing to consider dissolving or consolidating their local governments. That law could end 134 years of history for the village of 350 residents.
Altmar is not along in going down this road. The talk of consolidation is spreading slowly across the state. It can divide communities with strong feelings about saving money and holding on to historic connections. We'll see which way Altmar turns tomorrow. You can read below what I blogged about when Seneca Falls took the same type of vote last spring.
Here's what I blogged about on March 16, 2010 regarding Seneca Falls consolidation
A strong turnout of voters in Seneca Falls boldly stepped into a new chapter tonight for the historic village. About a third of the people who live there turned out to have their say about dissolving the village government into the town. More than one thousand people thought it was the wrong way to go, but that was about 100 votes shy of the voters who wanted consolidation. So the end of the village government will come on New Year's Eve of 2011.
A great deal of thought from the Village Dissolution Planning Committee went into this decision. There were public meetings, sometimes contentious. Even as the notion went to vote some issues remain unresolved. For example, the town wants to establish a police district within the current village boundaries after the merger. The state would have to approve that police district. If they don't a town wide department could be formed.
Those people who voted against the change are unsettled by the idea of letting go of the village that dates back more than 170 years. The decision is about taxes, money and the cost of government. But, is that what makes up a village?
What truly makes up a village are the people, the neighborhoods, the sidewalks and the common bond of community. Casting a vote to take away a layer of government will not take away any of that.
A few days ago I advocated for the village taking over the town instead of the town taking over the village. Maybe that would have felt better considering the village has three times the residents as the town. Now they will all be under the same umbrella. One fewer layer of bureaucracy. We'll see whether other governments across the state follow the lead of the people of Seneca Falls.
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