Full text: Dissolve Patchogue Village

JUSTIFICATION:  New York State has more than 10,521  local  governmental
entities,   which   include  towns,  villages  and  different  types  of
districts. These entities impose on the citizenry layer  upon  layer  of
overlapping taxing structures. As a result, New York's current system of

local  government is too expensive, confusing, inefficient and suscepti-
ble to waste, fraud and abuse.

Illustrative  of  the dysfunction in the current system of local govern-
ment is the more than 6,900 town  special  districts  operating  in  New
York.  State law now authorizes towns to establish special districts for
an ever increasing number of functions, including such arcane  functions
as  aquatic  plant growth control (Town Law SS 190, 198(10-e)), disposal
of duck waste (Town Law S 198-a), and fallout shelters (Town Law SS 190,
198 (10-c)). To be sure, some special purpose government entities play a
crucial role in town governance, by  providing  services  to  geographic
areas  that  other governments might not serve, managing critical public
services, and bringing attention to specific discrete problems. Over the
years, however, special districts have proliferated at an alarming rate,
increasing the cost of local government.

Indeed, the astounding number of  local  governments  in  New  York  has
contributed  to  the  rise  of local real property taxes. Throughout the
State there are large pockets of overlapping taxing entities. Erie Coun-
ty alone has 1,044 such entities,  including  3  cities,  25  towns,  15
villages,  32 fire districts and 939 special districts. Likewise, Nassau
and Suffolk Counties combined have  over  340  special  districts.    In
Hamilton  County,  there  exists  one  layer of government for every 132
people. Such examples can easily be multiplied.

For over 75 years, academics, commissions,  government  officials,  good
government  groups  and  informed  citizens have recognized the inherent
dysfunction in New York's local government system: In 1935, for example,
the New York State Commission for. the Revision of the Tax Laws, common-
ly referred to as the Mastick Commission, noted  that  there  were  "too
many  units of local government," resulting in the "duplication of func-
tions, overlapping areas, overlapping authority and  overlapping  debt."
Sixth  Report  of  the New York State Commission for the Revision of the
Tax Laws, at 15-16 (1935). The Mastick Commission criticized the State's
local government system as violative  of  the  "'first  principles'"  of
political  science  "taught  in our high schools, colleges and universi-
ties", and "so contrary to elementary principles of  human  organization
that  it is difficult if not impossible for the administration of public
affairs to be carried on with efficiency." Id.

Sixty years later, a study prepared by the 1995 Temporary State  Commis-
sion on Constitutional Revision revealed that the problem had only grown
in dimension:

New  York's  forms  of  general  purpose  government - counties, cities,
towns, and villages - were devised in the eighteenth century and  devel-
oped in the nineteenth. But they have not been modified in the twentieth
century,  despite  enormous  changes  in  population size and diversity,
economic  activity,  transportation  systems,  settlement  patterns  and
communications  technology.  Instead, the state has added frequently but
streamlined rarely. Localities kept their  forms,  but  their  functions
converged.  Where  necessary,  single-function,  special  districts  and

authorities were created to augment existing entities, increasing layer-
ing and complexity. The result is not a system, but a maze  of  overlap-
ping and often competing jurisdictions.

Effective  Government  Now  for the New Century: The Final Report of the
Temporary State Commission on Constitutional Revision, at 15 (1995).

Study after study has demonstrated  that  the  reorganization  of  local
government  entities - through consolidation and dissolution - holds the
potential for minimizing bureaucracy and thus maximizing efficiency  and
savings.{1}  Nevertheless,  despite a virtual consensus that the State's
local government system needs to be fixed,  consolidations  and  dissol-
utions of local government entities rarely occur.

Multiple  impediments  stand  in the way of local government reorganiza-
tion, but existing law is one which looms large. The applicable statutes
are randomly scattered throughout the Town  Law,  Village  Law,  General
Municipal  Law and Municipal Home Rule Law, creating an incomprehensible
maze for lawyers and laypersons alike.   For different  types  of  local
government  entities  there  are different consolidation and dissolution
rules and procedures, many of which are  inconsistent  and  nonsensical.
Some  rules are anachronistic, harkening back to a bygone era. For exam-
ple, a citizen must own taxable property  within  a  water  district  in
order  to sign a petition or vote in a special town election on a propo-
sition to consolidate the district with another one. See, e.g., Town Law
S 206(7). Such pecuniary and propertied qualifications  should  have  no
place  in contemporary society. A person's wealth is irrelevant to their
ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.

Additionally, citizen petition requirements  related  to  consolidations
and  dissolutions,  to  the limited extent they exist under current law,
are complex, confusing and difficult to meet. In  some  cases,  citizens
cannot  even  require  their  elected  representatives to consider as an
option the consolidation or dissolution of a  local  government  entity.
Such voter powerlessness places New York out of step with numerous other
states  that  grant  their  citizens the right to readily initiate local
government reorganizations.

The Act dramatically reforms existing law. It repeals, amends and super-
sedes outdated statutes and establishes  in  a  single  article  of  the
General  Municipal  Law uniform and all-inclusive procedures under which
local government entities{2} may be consolidated or dissolved.  Notably,
the Act does not mandate the reorganization of local government entities
in which a majority of the citizens are opposed to it.  The  bill  will,
however,  facilitate  consolidations  and  dissolutions  throughout  the
State, by giving citizens, local officials and counties a readable road-
map to follow.

Under the Act, the consolidation  or  dissolution  of  local  government
entities may be initiated in one of two ways:

* by the entities' governing body, or

* initiative petition of electors residing in the entities.

The governing body initiated process is triggered by the development and
approval  of  a  proposed written plan for consolidation or dissolution,
followed by the plan's publication and public hearings aimed at maximiz-
ing citizen participation. Consolidation of  local  government  entities
other  than  towns  or.  villages may go into effect after the governing
body or bodies give final approval to the plan.  However,  consolidation
or  dissolution  of  towns and/or villages cannot go into effect without
the approval of a majority of voters residing in each  of  the  affected
entities at a referendum. Likewise, the dissolution of a village must be
approved by a majority vote.

The  citizen-initiated  process is triggered by the filing of a petition
containing the signatures of at least. 10%  of  the  electors  or  5,000
electors,  whichever  is  less,  in  each  local government entity to be
consolidated or dissolved. (For small entities with 500 or  fewer  elec-
tors  the  petition  shall contain the signatures of at least 20% of the
electors.) The Act strikes from existing law all pecuniary or propertied
qualifications for signing the petition.  The  filing  of  the  petition
requires  a referendum to be held in each of the entities. If a majority
of the electorate in each entity votes  in  favor  of  consolidation  or
dissolution,  then  the entities' governing body or bodies must meet and
develop a proposed written  plan  to  implement  the  voters'  decision,
followed by the plan's publication and public hearings. Consolidation or
dissolution  takes  effect  when, the governing body or bodies approve a
final version of the plan.  However, citizens may, within 45-days  after
the  plan's  final approval, petition for a permissive referendum on the
question whether the plan should take effect. To compel such a  referen-
dum,  the  petition  must  contain the signatures of at least 25% of the
electors or 15,000 electors, whichever is less, in each local government
entity to be consolidated or dissolved.

The Act anticipates the possibility that the governing body or bodies of
local government entities are either unable or unwilling to comply  with
the requirements imposed on them during the course of a citizen-initiat-
ed  consolidation or dissolution. In such circumstance
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