Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R, I, C – Batavia) today voted in favor of Assembly Bill 8501, the “New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act.” This legislation would help save taxpayer dollars by allowing local government to become more effective and efficient, while at the same time standardizing state law regarding the process of government consolidation.
“I firmly believe that less government is better government and I have long supported initiatives to consolidate government services, such as during this year’s budget negotiation. By consolidating services among the three levels of government, we can more effectively and efficiently serve our collective constituency,” said Hawley.
The Assemblyman continued, “At first glance, there were some fears about this legislation that I shared with local government agencies. I wanted to make sure that this bill was not just another Albany-imposed mandate. I have taken the time to carefully review the bill and to vet the language with my colleagues in local government as well as to read a number of letters and e-mails my office has received since this bill was introduced. We need to take steps to cut government excess in order to truly protect the taxpayers and businesses of our state, and I believe after considering this legislation that this bill will help meet that goal.”
The bill puts into place a standardized method for government consolidation, shared services or dissolution of government entities, should that be proposed on a local level. While the Assemblyman originally had some concerns about the bill, upon reviewing the bill language and vetting it through local and state officials, he came to the conclusion that the bill merely clarifies and standardizes the process by which local government entities may consolidate, share services or dissolve, should the voters of the district petition.
The largest among the Assemblyman’s original concerns was that the bill outlines that 10 percent of the electorate must sign a petition calling for a referendum on the issue of consolidation, sharing services or dissolution. However, this 10 percent is greater than the current 5 percent standard in Town Law and greater than the percentage needed in most cases for a petition to consolidate adjoining villages under current Village Law. Additionally, the bill provides a safeguard for small villages and government entities with populations of less than 500 residents. In these cases, the bill calls for 20 percent of the population to sign the petition.
Additionally, the Assemblyman shared the concern of some local officials that this measure would put too much power into the hands of county-level officials. However, current state law already gives counties this power. Another concern was that should a referendum be called for, taxpayers would be asked to foot the bill for holding a special election. Yet, the bill directly states that should a referendum be called, it may be held at any time, including on general elections.
Finally, the Assemblyman was concerned that should a referendum be called for and passed, it would give local government entities short notice to lay out plans to consolidate, share services or dissolve. The bill language details the standardized process, which would amount to a minimum of 390 days and, thereafter, it would take up to an additional two years for the plan to be fully implemented.
“At the end of the day, this bill puts the power of change into the hands of the people, which, in my opinion, is where it belongs. This bill does not call for governments to consolidate or dissolve at a local level. It merely gives a standardized process for localities should they consider this option,” said Hawley.
To further ensure that certain government entities, such as fire districts, are protected, Hawley is drafting new legislation that would amend A.8501. The Assemblyman stated, “I want to make sure that our fire departments are fully protected and that the bill which was passed does not have any unintended negative consequences for our firefighters, especially in terms of volunteer firefighter recruitment. I will continue working together with the fire districts and volunteer fire departments in the 139th Assembly District and my colleagues in the State Legislature toward this end.”