The Village of Seneca Falls is dissolving as of December 31, 2011. I believe it is the largest village in New York state to do so. We are a blue collar community of roughly 7,000 people who, like everywhere else, enjoy raising our families in a safe environment. Every community has its own unique set of circumstances that make dissolution a wise or not-so-wise choice. Unfortunately, you don’t always know the right decision before it is too late. And right or wrong or yes or no, it turns lives upside down.
I wanted to write an article that talked about our unique circumstances that led us to dissolution but feel it would be time better served to share instead what I feel is a lesson learned if and when you find your municipality being served petitions which would force a vote of all registered voters on whether to dissolve.
Prior to the March 16, 2010 dissolution vote, our village was required to create a full dissolution plan developed by a Dissolution Committee and approved by the Village Board of Trustees. As public officials appointed or elected to do a job, they felt very strongly that all residents needed to make that decision for themselves by voting. The board was also careful not to give opinions on what they felt personally but instead worked to give each voter enough information to make up their own informed decision. It was not an easy task and one, I feel, we failed at. In our defense, it was not an easy challenge to tackle, but instead, a series of complex issues that force many assumptions and few guarantees. The dissolution plan that was developed by the appointed committee was assumed to be completely factual by many residents and when it showed a tax savings of 48 percent, residents took that “to the bank” even though the town was adamant about not committing to all of the elements of the plan and in many instances even completely disagreeing with it.
One of the most important lessons to share is that the municipality that will take over the services must be involved right from the beginning. In our case, it was the town of Seneca Falls. The voters needed to know exactly what services would be staying the same and what services would no longer be provided. Commitments must be clear even though future boards cannot be held to past commitments. I believe it hurt us to have a full detailed plan because voters felt safer to vote yes to dissolution not understanding the assumptions made and the town’s commitment.
Another lesson after the fact, I believe, is not taking a stronger stand on the plan. Most of the public officials in the village felt the plan was not accurate but it was up to the voters to decide and their silence created a false sense of acceptance and approval.
The bottom line is that the vote was lost by 86 votes and now our village is going away at the end of this year. The transition issues are many, overwhelming and if possible, more complex than was the dissolution plan.
But that is for another time, another article.