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AUGUST 05 - AUGUST 13, 2014

Wilson Dissolution Vote Scheduled Aug. 26

By James Hufnagel

August 05, 2014

The Village of Wilson, a small, picturesque community on Lake Ontario, may vote at the end of the month to dissolve and merge with the town.

The recent grassroots-based effort to dissolve the small Village of Wilson in Niagara County (population 1,264 according to the 2010 census) and merge it with the surrounding Town of Wilson (pop. 5,993), is an excellent example of citizens fed up with high taxes, duplication of services, and entrenched cronyism and doing something about it.

Petitions were circulated, over 180 signatures collected and resolutions passed, resulting in a scheduled Aug. 26 village-wide referendum that will be held to determine if the village is to "go away."

If passed, a state-sponsored study will explore the pros and cons of dissolution - the impacts on taxes and services for both town and village dwellers. The completed study will be scrutinized, and if found lacking, a second vote will be held to negate the first.

Who decides if the study is positive or not?

The same village folks who voted the first time, that's who.

One of the stated policy goals of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration is to encourage cost savings through consolidation and shared services among all classes of local government, and it's attempting to accomplish that by extending state aid through the AIM (Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) program to participating communities.

Up to $100,000 in state grants would be available to Wilson taxpayers the first year of dissolution, to be used for implementation or, alternatively, applied directly to property tax relief, and further payments in subsequent years could be forthcoming depending on state legislative priorities.

In addition, the tab for the dissolution study itself will be 90 percent picked up by the state.

An avalanche of fiscal concerns triggered this action by Wilson taxpayers, the major one being that the village happens to have a preponderance of employees eligible for retirement, and their long tenures have resulted in salaries and benefits being responsible for a lop-sided share of the village's overall spending. Upwards of 60 percent of the village's 2014-2015 budget is projected to be comprised of salaries and benefits, a proportion greatly skewed as compared to other local communities, which typically range 40 percent and lower.

Salaries (and expense accounts) to be immediately eliminated would be those of the mayor ($5,940, based on the 2014-15 budget), two trustees ($6,624 combined) and village attorney ($16,000), totaling $28,564. All other positions may, or may not be, subsumed by the town. These include the superintendent and deputy superintendent of the Department of Public Works, whose combined annual salaries top out over $121,000 for fiscal year 2014-15, in addition to health insurance ($1263 monthly), dental insurance ($149 monthly), and longevity bonus ($2000 annually).

The Village of Edwards Dissolution Plan, produced by the Rochester-based Center for Governmental Research, set the stage for the merging of that small St. Lawrence County village with its town a couple of years ago, and the numbers included in that plan are predictive of what Wilson residents could expect if they follow the same path.

The Village of Edwards (population 439) carried the burden of a village government consisting of mayor, two trustees, a clerk-treasurer and a code enforcement officer. All were eliminated with the merger, which villagers passed by a vote of 55 to 9. Can you guess who 5 of the 9 were?

According to the study, tax rates per $1000 assessed value for Edwards' villagers and town residents were $24.17 and $20.41, respectively, before dissolution and merger. These were projected to fall to $21.64 and $20.35 after dissolution, and even further, to $20.02 and $18.72, if the entire AIM subsidy was applied to property tax reduction. This is not just holding the line on taxes - these are actual tax reductions derived from shared services and the release of redundant government officials. The effect on services for all was determined to be negligible.





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