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A Citizens’ Guide to Consolidating Overlapping Governments
Did you know?
Governor Cuomo created Citizen Empowerment Grants that provides direct financial assistance to local governments to plan for and implement the restructuring of local governments pursuant to the New New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act. These grants, which are administered by the Department of State, provide up to $25,000 in immediate financial assistance to a local government petitioned by citizens to act on municipal re-organization to offset expenses related to that process. There is an additional $75,000 that will be made available to assist with re-organization planning and implementation.
Governor Cuomo changed the law to require that 70 percent of the increased state aid as a result of a merger or dissolution of government goes directly to taxpayer relief when there was formerly no requirement that any state aid went to taxpayer relief.
The Local Government Citizen's Re-Organization Tax Credit, created by Governor Cuomo, provides additional annual aid to local governments equal to 15 percent of the combined amount of real property taxes levied by all of the municipalities involved in a consolidation or dissolution, not to exceed $1,000,000. This aid can be provided directly to a local government that has re-organized on or after April 1, 2007 and requires that 70 percent of state funds be returned to the citizens of the local governments in the form of direct property tax relief.
If a community cannot control property taxes, then that community should consider consolidating or dissolving overlapping duplicative layers of government. As Attorney General, Governor Andrew Cuomo passed the “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act” to provide a process for citizens to petition for a public vote on dissolving or consolidating local governments.
The “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act” (Empowerment Act) allows citizens to reorganize and modernize government through dissolving or consolidating local governments.
In order to get on the ballot you must begin with a petition. The Empowerment Act law requires signatures of 10 percent or 5,000 registered voters within the effected municipality, whichever is less, to initiate the process (for municipalities with a population less than 500, the law requires signature of 20 percent of the registered voters).
Once you have secured the necessary signatures they must be properly filed and examined by the town or village clerk. Once your petition is approved by the appropriate clerk, a notice will be issued and a referendum will be held. The referendum must be held between 60-90 days after the clerk makes his or her determination.
Most importantly, the referendum is only approving the idea of dissolution or consolidation, and an actual plan will have to be formulated by the local government body itself, with input from the public. If the voters disapprove of your proposal, there is a mandatory four-year moratorium before you can try again. If it is approved, you are ready for the next step.
Download Sample Petitions
The voters have passed your plan and agree that a layer of local government needs to be dissolved or consolidated, but the process is not done yet. The applicable municipalities you are trying to dissolve or consolidate must now formulate a plan within 210 days after the referendum. Before the Plan can be finalized, the effected municipalities must hold public hearings and upon the approval of the final version of the plan by your governing bodies, the consolidation or dissolution becomes effective.
Did you know?
The Village of Altmar is the first village in New York to approve dissolution under the Empowerment Act. The total savings after dissolution is projected to be $31,290. The Town will also receive the Citizen’s Empowerment Tax Credit from New York State in the amount of $58,000 annually, of which 70 percent will be applied toward property tax relief. As a result all residents should see a 45 percent reduction in property taxes. Current Town-Outside-Village residents’ tax rates will be reduced at least 10 percent
If you find the plan adopted by the local governing body unacceptable you have recourse. Through another petition process and referendum the voters can reject the plan. To bring the plan to a referendum you need to collect the signatures of 25 percent or 15,000 (whichever is less) of registered voters in the effected municipalities. If the referendum fails, the consolidation or dissolution goes into effect. If the voters agree that the plan is unacceptable, you must then begin the process over from the start – including a new petition and referendum.
If the local governing bodies fail to finalize a plan as required by law, the process will move into the legal system. A court-appointed mediator or hearing officer will work to finalize a plan, which will then automatically become effective.
The re-organization of towns, villages, fire districts and other special districts, through consolidation or dissolution, has the potential to reduce costs and increase the efficiency of service delivery through economies of scale, better coordination, a more flexible workforce, and/or elimination of redundant services. Citizens may choose to have their local governments pursue re-organization as a cost saving measure in an effort to help the local government stay under the 2 percent tax cap. Sometimes consolidation or dissolution is a necessity, such as when there aren’t enough volunteers for boards, when it’s tough to get candidates for office, or when the unit of government is too small to afford to employ certified personnel required by law.
The Citizen’s Guide to Petitioning for Local Government Consolidation or Dissolution explains how citizens may petition their governments for action under the legislation. It explains who may sign and circulate petitions, what a petition must contain, and what happens to a petition once it is filed with the municipal clerk.