LAKE GEORGE - The movement to dissolve the village of Lake George stalled this week as local government officials conceded there isn't enough time to iron out the details before the upcoming March 18 village election.
State law mandates that a village can only hold a vote on dissolution at a regular election unless a petition is signed by a supermajority of the voting residents, Village Dissolution Committee Chairman and Village Trustee John Root said at a joint town-village meeting held Thursday.
"I think it is safe to say that this ship has sailed," Root said. "I think it is time we started to look at other options."
At the meeting, the committee - composed of town and village officials - was addressed by legal specialists from the New York Conference of Mayors, a group that represents village and city governments throughout the state.
Conference officials presented the potential pitfalls of village dissolution and argued for several alternatives.
"It is our belief that a village is the greatest form of democracy," NYCOM General Council Wade Beltramo said. "In New York, only village governments may be dissolved or formed by the people through a vote."
Beltramo said that instead of dissolving and handing over the village assets to the Town of Lake George, the village could instead form a "co-terminus" village/town. Also, the village borders could be expanded to allow for further economic growth and development of a larger tax base.
"The concept that dissolution allows for greater efficiency and better economy of scale is not always true," Beltramo said. "Each village must be looked at in its own context."
In 2007, a study conducted by the state's local government efficiency commission in 2007 suggested that consolidation would substantially lower property taxes. In November last year, Lake George was the first village to receive a $45,000 grant to pay for a dissolution study. The study outcome showed tax increases for residents outside the village offsetting reductions for those inside the village borders.
With the Office of the State Comptroller prompting municipalities to adopts ways to increase efficiency and lower operating costs, the push to dissolve villages has sparked controversy across the state. In Lake George, non-village residents are concerned about the increased tax burden that a village/town consolidation would place squarely on their shoulders.
Village consultant Fairweather Consulting has predicted that dissolution will prompt a tax increase from nine to 40 percent among non-village town residents.
According to Beltramo, if the village was annexed by the town and a co-terminus municipality was established, these shortfalls would be dramatically reduced.
In a co-terminus municipality, a single board would act as the town board and the village board of trustees. Further, a single individual would hold the seat of supervisor and mayor.
Also, village debts and assets, the disposition of which has raised considerable controversy, would remain with those who live within the boundaries of the village.
"We are simply trying to find ways to save everyone money," Village Mayor Bob Blais said. "We certainly don't want to dissolve at the expense of our neighbors - There is definitely a lot of work to be accomplished on this issue."