HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- Residents Deborah Alter and Ramon McMillian said they chose to move to the village of Hoosick Falls when they relocated a little over 14 months ago.
Asking how village dissolution would promote jobs or sell empty homes, Alter said the local sense of community was important for the couple when choosing where to live. Looking both inside the village and the surrounding town, "we found the house we like," she said, which happened to lie inside the village.
"Rather have the ...community"
"I'd rather have the services and the community than that small amount of money," Alter said, expressing concern during a hearing Thursday to receive feedback as part of the village's ongoing dissolution study.
"That's definitely what this comes down to," agreed Mayor Matthew Monahan. Between cost savings and an available tax credit, the incentive to consolidate was projected by researchers at nearly $1 million. From Thursday's public comment and an informal show of hands, however, the change received at best a lukewarm response from residents in attendance.
Of a crowd between 60 to 80 filling the senior center, about half raised their hands in opposition to consolidation with the town of Hoosick. Nearly as many village residents raised their hands as "undecided," when assuming a townwide police force. Under the same premise, only a half-dozen or so expressed support for consolidation.
And there was no support reflected for a scenario that eliminated the local police force altogether.
McMillian said it was maybe "more logical" to explore further shared services to "see if the town and village can work well together," and then look at dissolution later.
Monahan characterized the study as identifying the "most aggressive approach" to spurring growth and reversing a shrinking tax base, and said the two highway departments had a good working relationship currently.
"I remember a much different downtown" as a teenager, said Monahan, now 31. There was "a lot going on. ... That's what I want to see back here."
Saying he usually tries to "avoid counting," the mayor said he tallied 19 vacant buildings and storefronts on a recent walk.
Remembering when those buildings were mostly filled, "that's all I want. I don't want to be constructing skyscrapers," he continued.
"We have great establishments; we just don't have the diversity." While the estimated savings from dissolution on a village home may or may not have an impact individually, Monahan pointed to empty commercial properties assessed at a much higher value, where the reduction in taxes would be much greater.
Bernard Davock, a Hoosick Falls police officer speaking in uniform Thursday, said there was historical precedence for a townwide force in Hoosick -- in the form of appointed constables, shortly after the town's formation in 1788.
"This isn't a new idea," Davock said. He said the village force was incorporated in 1888, 61 years after the village. Not speaking for or against any action, Davock said he understood where town residents were coming from, with comments that they "don't want to be policed," but he said police weren't there to look over shoulders but to protect and help in times of need. Officers are also trained as emergency first responders, and are apt to help residents "unlock car windows," he said, the job being "more than just police work."
Joseph Nuccio, a member of the study steering committee, said it'd be difficult to bring new residents and businesses to town if the department were eliminated. "I agree the village definitely needs a police force," said Rick Tinkham, a local Realtor.
"The kids need to see them driving by," echoed Margaret Merwin.
Mark Surdam, a town board member and village resident serving on the dissolution steering committee, said his main concern was also law enforcement. For the size of the village, and its lack of proximity to sheriff and state police barracks, "I think it's important you don't lose that police presence in the village." Still, Surdam added there were "strong arguments" for having the police able to respond outside village lines. (Currently, the force only responds outside its jurisdiction on an as-needed basis, usually several times a month.)
Responding to the comment that town residents didn't want a police department, Surdam pointed out that villagers were town residents too.
More than half of the studied savings from dissolution would come from abolishing the local police department, which in itself would reduce costs by more than $390,000 a year, according to the Center for Governmental Research's options report released last month. Consolidating the village with the town would save an estimated $623,000 total, by reducing staff and economies of scale. But a townwide police force or inter-municipal agreement with Rensselaer County for additional sheriff's patrols would offset those savings by an indeterminate amount.
After a successful dissolution referendum in Seneca Falls, the community decided to create a townwide force, according to Paul Bishop, a representative from CGR.
James Martinez, a real estate broker and president of the Hoosick Federal Credit Union, said he couldn't imagine running the credit union without the police department. But Martinez was among the minority to voice support for dissolution, saying the move would have the benefit of breaking down the historic barrier between town and village.
"One big benefit of dissolution is we're all on the same page. ... It's not us versus them," he said. "It'd be nice to eliminate that."
"I don't think (dissolution) will eliminate that," responded Ric DiDonato, a village trustee who said the change could instead worsen that schism. "They won't be happy with us, as a village."
Resident Sharon Davendonis asked what would happen to the name Hoosick Falls, "and what if the town doesn't want to consolidate" and doesn't cooperate, she asked. Members of the steering committee pointed to Fort Ticonderoga and Old Forge, two communities that still identify themselves as unique villages decades after dissolution.
Monahan acknowledged the unknown in ceding control to town government but said he wouldn't anticipate resistance. "Whatever comes out of this, it's going to be the village making a decision to better the village," and, correspondingly, the town.
Ann Marie Bornt, the village clerk, said village building codes and nuisance ordinances were more strict than the town's. Bishop said existing village law would stay in effect for two years as the town decided what to implement. He also said a state incentive, the Citizens Empowerment Tax Credit, would become available after a vote to dissolve. The credit, equaling 15 percent of the combined tax levy or approximately $336,000, would offset local tax bills townwide.
"For the difference it'd cost me in taxes, I'd just as soon keep it how it is," said resident Judith Flynn, who expressed concern that winter road upkeep could suffer on her hill. "We like what we have now."
Donald Bogardus, a former longtime mayor, said there had been previous discussion about consolidation over the years that went nowhere. "The village came to be because a group of people got together, and they wanted those special services," he said. "If you want those services, you live in the village. ... If you feel like you don't need them, you live in the town."
Following Thursday's hearing, the 10-member steering committee will next meet to determine a final recommendation for village trustees. The village board will then decide whether to accept that recommendation, and, if dissolution is the chosen route, a village-wide referendum would take place. That vote would likely be scheduled during next March's general village elections.
If the steering committee or village board determine that consolidation would not be the best option, no vote would take place and the two municipalities would be free to explore further shared services in the attempt to cut costs. All related materials from the grant-funded study are available online at www.cgr.org/hoosick.
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