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Laberge Group Holds First Official Tannersville Dissolution Public Meeting

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 4/19/24 | 4/19/24

It was a packed house in Tannersville. Photo by Max Oppen.

By Max Oppen

TANNERVILLE — On Monday evening, the Village of Tannersville and the Laberge Group, hired as dissolution consultants, convened a pivotal public meeting to discuss the prospect of dissolution. With the Village's fate hanging in the balance, residents gathered to glean insights and air concerns regarding this consequential decision.

Ben Syden, Vice President of Laberge Group, and Kathleen Rooney, Local Government Specialist for Laberge Group, elucidated the intricate facets of the dissolution process. Their hour-long presentation, punctuated with data and analysis, aimed to empower residents with the knowledge necessary to navigate this complex terrain.

Central to the discourse were the implications of dissolution on both the Village of Tannersville and the Town of Hunter. 

Syden said that prior to a Village dissolution vote, “We'll be providing information to the community on possible conditions of services, the impact on Village and Town property taxes, and what will happen to assets and liabilities." Laberge is responsible for coming up with a disposition plan for those assets, outlining which assets will be transferred to the Town and which assets will be sold at auction.

Laberge has interviewed several Village department heads and will meet with Town officials in the coming weeks. Earlier reports discussed whether local officials or residents would sit on committees to discuss dissolution, but according to Village Mayor David Schneider it will be working groups, not committees, composed of both local officials and residents. 

Laberge’s Syden says issues folks are concerned about include government representation, Village identity, critical services like sewer and water rates, NYC Department of Environmental Protection sewer contracts, public works, fire services and code enforcement, grants, and continued investments in the Village's water system. 

The backdrop of New York State's Article 17-A, enacted in 2010, framed the discussion, delineating the legal framework for Village dissolution or consolidation. Tannersville's deliberate choice of a Board-initiated process instead of a petition signaled a measured approach, affording ample time for research, planning, and community engagement.

Syden, drawing upon Laberge Group's experience, said, "This marks the 15th or 16th government reorganization process we've facilitated." He added, "We want to develop a dissolution plan that safeguards your community identity."

If Village residents vote no on dissolution, they can start a petition to consolidate with either the Town or Village of Hunter, which is nearly the same process except that Town and Village residents would have a vote as opposed to only Village residents for dissolution. 

Should the Village dissolve, the Town of Hunter will have to develop a new budget, manage staff position transfers or eliminations, determine what equipment it needs, and create special districts (fire, water, sewer, lighting). 

Syden elucidated, "Should the Village opt for dissolution, the onus falls upon the Town to shoulder essential services, ranging from water and sewer to fire protection, alongside navigating grants and debts." The Town will also administer former Village grants. 

Laberge Group will also grapple with zoning disparities (the Village has zoning, the Town does not), and chart the trajectory of Village employees post-dissolution. Laberge Group has created a Q&A website that also includes an FAQ page. It lives online here: www.labergegroup/, and serves as a repository for vital resources and facilitates community interaction.

The path to dissolution is fraught with complexities, as evidenced by the nuanced discussion surrounding the distribution of debts and assets. Former Mayor Lee McGunnigle's queries underscored the intricacies at play, emphasizing the imperative of equitable solutions amidst uncertainty.

According to Syden, separate water and sewer districts are automatically created if the Village dissolves. "Your vote to dissolve automatically creates a water and sewer district. How the debt is distributed for the former Village and the out-of-district users is up to the Town. "As a right, the debt stays with the district that the former Village creates."

McGunnigle wanted to know what would happen with the Village's water debt. He asked, "Will the water debt go to the new district or be restricted to current taxpayers?" Laberge's Rooney replied, "Typically, the debt follows the water district. Whoever the users are in the district will continue to pay their share of the debt."

Rooney added, "For most of the communities we've worked with, when there's debt related to a sewer or water district and the Village has relationships with properties outside the Village, there's been a continued sharing of that debt. That's typically how it's done, but it's not necessarily in law." 

Newly-appointed Village Trustee George Kelly said, "So there's no guarantee. The Town could say they won't take on any debt the Village carried." Rooney said, "Correct." Syden noted that in every case Laberge has dealt with, the debt stays with the first district, i.e., the Village. McGunnigle said, "Village taxpayers did everything to build the infrastructure that currently exists, so basically the users in [the Town] outside the Village are getting a free ride - they didn't build the system and get the grants. The Village taxpayers, the incorporated Village that built all this, is giving it away for free." Syden said, "Pretty much." Syden added that a district is created in most cases, and the debt remains within that district. But he acknowledged that it may not. 

Syden said former Governor Cuomo created an incentive for communities to reorganize, which comes in the form of an annual state grant equal to 15% of the joint tax levy. The Village 2023/24 tax levy was approximately $447,000, and the Town's tax levy was $2.75 million. Once combined, 15% of the total would be roughly $480,000. The state would provide this in the form of an annual grant to the Town should the Village dissolve. Syden said, "The state would give the Town more money than the Village raises. This amount would come off the Town's tax levy," reducing the Town's tax levy by $480,000. The law states that 70% of that must go to lowering Town taxes. The remaining 30% goes to the Town for assorted services. 

Laberge will draft a study document and provide it to the Village Board, who will then present it to the public. The Board then must endorse the plan and hold a public hearing. The Board then must decide where the plan makes sense and bring it to a referendum. Should Village residents kill the dissolution, the dissolution issue is "dead for four years," according to Syden. However, the Village of Tannersville could still discuss consolidation with the Town. He added that the Village of Tannersville could even consolidate with the Village of Hunter.. According to Syden, this is the first dissolution process they've worked on for a Town with two villages and a Village with a wastewater treatment plant agreement with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Mayor Schneider said, “It was a very good first meeting with Laberge but obviously so early in the process that a lot of questions were unable to be answered. I would really like for the residents of Tannersville to continue emailing questions they have to Laberge and am hoping to set up another public meeting once we have enough information.”

Moving forward, Laberge will continue gathering information, answering the public’s questions online, and hold a virtual Q&A session for the general public in June.

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