Assemblywoman Sandy Galef announced new opportunities for consolidation or dissolution of local governments. The passing of the N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act (A.8501) on June 1, 2009 which Galef co-sponsored will empower citizens, officials, and counties to reorganize outdated and inefficient local governments. Through a series of user-friendly procedures, individuals will be able to consolidate or dissolve local government entities more easily than before.
“The recent economic downturn has given us an opportunity to reform governments at all levels. There are 10,521 local governments in the state. It is time government does its part to minimize layers of government which result in waste and duplication of services so that we can deliver real tax savings to working families,” said Galef. “In April, I started a task force in my assembly district to look at ways we can reduce overhead and streamline operations at the local level to offer services more efficiently. This bill will surely be of interest to the members of my task force as well as all the residents of my district,” Galef stated.
A recent example of the cost of these many layers of government which has been circulating is that of the Gordon Heights Fire District on Long Island. It has been reported that people living in this district pay as much as $2,600 in property taxes for fire protection.
Under the act, the consolidation or dissolution of local government entities may be initiated in one of two ways:
- A 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 maximizing 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; and
- Consolidation of towns and/or villages cannot go into effect without the approval of a majority of voters residing in each of the affected entities by referendum. Likewise, the dissolution of a village must be approved by a majority vote of village voters.
- A citizen-initiated process is triggered by the filing of a petition containing the signatures of at least 10 percent of the electorate or 5,000 electors, whichever is less, in the local government entity or entities to be consolidated or dissolved. For small entities with 500 or fewer electors the petition must contain the signatures of at least 20 percent of the electorate.
- The filing of the petition requires a referendum to be held in each of the government entities;
- If a majority of the electorate in each entity votes in favor of consolidation or dissolution, then the entity’s 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; and
- Consolidation or dissolution takes effect when the governing body or bodies approve a final version of the plan.
Though this legislation dramatically reforms existing law it does not mandate the reorganization of local entities in which a majority of citizens oppose this reorganization. It does, however, facilitate consolidations and dissolutions throughout the state. Galef also said, “Our current law makes even considering consolidation difficult. This act will give local government officials and/or the public the power to revamp the makeup of government and decide their own future.”
Taxpayers are currently subjected to an array of overlapping communities and special districts that cause expense, confusion and inefficiency. When this bill becomes law, there is a potential to decrease property taxes and hopefully create a more coherent system of government. NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo recently stated, “Should we reduce the size of government it could potentially cut taxes by anywhere from five to twenty-two percent.” Galef concluded, “I hope that this bill will indeed lead to such projected tax savings.”