How many governments do you need?

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A A recent discussion in the Ulster County Legislative Assembly about holding a public hearing for a local bill to provide for the collection of property taxes from delinquent villages has turned into a conversation about the role of local governments. village in the modern era.

A public hearing on the local law, which would allow Ulster County’s three villages – New Paltz, Saugerties and Ellenville – to opt in to a collection process similar to those used by towns and school districts, is scheduled for the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday. , September 20.

Tax bills are issued by cities each January, and if they remain unpaid in May, they are turned over to the county, which then makes the whole city by paying the overdue bill to the city and adds the amount of the bill plus the penalties to his rolls the following January. If taxes are unpaid for three years, the county can take steps to sell the property at auction. School districts issue tax bills in July, remitting unpaid bills to the county in September, with the bill amount plus penalties added to its rolls in January.

At a meeting of the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday August 16, Minority Leader Kenneth Ronk (R-Shawangunk), said the decision to allow villages to access the same system instead of carrying the burden of collecting unpaid taxes themselves, would align with his belief that the days of village government are over.

“Village government is, I think, becoming an obsolete level of government and an unnecessary and expensive level of government in many places,” Ronk said. “In the Village of Saugerties and the Town of Saugerties, and in the Village of New Paltz and the Town of New Paltz, you’ve seen a lot of consolidation of departments, where there were two police departments, there’s no only one police department.”

Joseph Maloney (D-Saugerties), one of the local law co-sponsors, agreed.

“In the town of Saugerties, the village owns the water and it’s on land on town property, and we buy water from them,” Maloney said. “This is madness… The more you get into government, the more antiquated the process seems. »

But Dr. Gerald Benjamin, retired associate vice president for regional engagement and director of the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz, said that while he himself is a longtime advocate for disbandment from the village of New Paltz, Ronk was gone. base.

“First of all, this legislator should be ashamed of himself,” Benjamin said, adding that Ronk was a former student of his. “To condemn an ​​entire class of government like that without due consideration doesn’t make much sense.”

Benjamin said that while he thinks New Paltz might be best served by one government, it’s not necessarily the best solution elsewhere.

“I don’t think all the villages should be abolished because they are obsolete,” Benjamin said. “Essentially, villages were created to provide additional levels of services to places with high population concentrations, and towns were designed to provide minimum services to very rural places to ensure they had public safety, roads to bring produce to market, etc. .”

Benjamin explained that New York’s village governments arose in response to former townspeople demanding some of the same services after moving to the suburbs, but the state legislature did not give cities these powers.

“They said, ‘If you want these services, you have to create villages,'” Benjamin said. “But over time, this remedy was overtaken by demographic change and growth, so the state legislature began to empower cities to do what villages used to do.”

Benjamin said that while he was in favor of disbanding the Village of New Paltz, he praised Village Mayor Tim Rogers and Town Supervisor Neil Bettez for working well together.

“We have tremendous leadership at New Paltz,” Benjamin said. “It’s a tough time, but CEOs get along, they’re smart, they’re thoughtful, they bring models of rational decision-making to solve problems. I think what our Village mayor did in the worst system is extraordinary… We’re lucky that way.

Rogers also praised the collaborative efforts of the Village and Town of New Paltz, adding that it makes sense that they are separate.

“We share an assessor, we share a court, we share a police department,” Rogers said. “We share a recycling and reuse center, we have leisure centers that are shared. What we have separately is a construction department.

Rogers said he and Bettez often discussed having village and town offices next to each other.

“What we both inherited is the fact that the town offices are in temporary trailers outside the village,” Rogers said. “So if we could wave a magic wand and have side-by-side offices, even if you don’t legally combine them, could they share a copier? Could they share a front office window? Could they share staff? We’ve done this before, and I think it made a lot of sense. We regularly look for opportunities like this.

Rogers wondered if eliminating the village government altogether would save taxpayers money.

“A city is required to have a fire district, which is an additional taxing authority,” he said. “So if you were to just have the town of New Paltz, the village fire department would disappear. You wouldn’t actually reduce the number of taxing authorities it would actually stay the same… And the way fire services are offered in our community is we have an agreement where the village fire department serves at the both the village and the town outside the Village. It is essentially a shared service.

Village of Saugerties Mayor Bill Murphy said relations between the Village and the Town of Saugerties also operate in a collaborative manner and that he and Town Supervisor Fred Costello have a good working relationship. He added that living in a village provides services that a city does not, and that dissolving is not necessarily the economy people think it could be.

“People who live in a village, yes, they pay village tax and city tax,” Murphy said. “But they don’t pay the same level of municipal tax as city dwellers. Many people think that when they move from a village to the city, they are going to get a huge tax break. But even if they lose a communal tax, the communal tax obviously becomes more important because they reside full time in the commune. It’s not the break you think it is.

Murphy said he thinks a full consolidation of the village and town of Saugerties is likely to happen one day, although he thinks the move would benefit the people who live in the village financially.

“I don’t think town residents would get the tax breaks that village residents would get if the two merged,” Murphy said, citing comments from the merging of the two entities’ police departments more than a decade ago. year. “The tax relief resulting from the police amalgamation has certainly been much more beneficial to the resident of the village than to the city.”

Murphy said that as mayor of the Village of Saugerties, he will continue to look for ways to work with the town government for the whole community.

“We share so many services already,” Murphy said. “I think there are a lot of savings that we realize on a daily basis, and we are very aware of that. So I personally don’t think the Village is a burden.

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