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August 21, 2013

Mayor fires back at dissolution proposal

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — RICHFIELD SPRINGS — Faced with a petition that gives voters the chance to decide whether they want to dissolve their local government, village officials here are aggressively trying to counter the notion that they are duplicating public services provided by the town of Richfield.

Both sides in the debate over whether to dissolve the village of Richfield Springs have seven more weeks to make their case to registered voters. The special election on the dissolution question, made necessary by a petition drive pushed by former county lawmaker Alex Shields, will be held on Oct. 15.

Shields, in seeking signatures on the petition, told voters that taxpayers could save at least $200,000 a year if village government were mothballed and the town of Richfield had to take over the services now provided by the village.

Since then, Mayor Ronald Frohne, assisted by other village officials, have cast doubt on Shields contentions, arguing they amount to “gross misrepresentations of the real situation.”

In a posting on the village’s official web site, Frohne stated: “The village does a lot of work that the town does not handle. There is very little in the way of duplicate services, and where duplication has occurred, efforts to share services are already in place. The Village of Richfield Springs runs a tight ship. We do not carry unnecessary staff, and the staff we do have works hard to keep budgets in line, often finding ways to fix things in house rather than buying new or sending out for repairs.”

Responding to the contention that dissolution of the village will save taxpayers $200,000, Frohne noted that the entire village payroll, plus benefits, comes to only $85,910 a year. If the village employees were sent packing, he reasoned, the town would have to hire staffers to do the work being performed by those who would be let go.

Shields said he was reluctant to get into a public argument with Frohne but noted he was bothered by the accusation that he has made unsubstantiated claims.

“He’s essentially calling me a liar,” he said. “My 50 to 60 years in public service speaks for itself. He is entitled to his opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. To say I’m doing something nefarious is pretty darn sad.”

Shields said he has been submitting requests for financial information, citing the Freedom of Information Law to access records. He said he is raising questions about why the village is financially responsible for a New York State Police barracks in the village, contending the town should be asked to held underwrite that expense, since the presence of troopers locally also benefits those living just outside the village.

Frohne said he’s been using the village web site and its Facebook page to provide detailed information about village finances to the public, and plans to distribute a flyer that will respond to Shields’ contention that there is unnecessary duplication in town and village government.

The mayor said he believes most village voters will reject the proposed dissolution. “I think they are going to vote ‘no,’” he said, adding: “But I’m not taking anything for granted. We’re going to be working on it.”

Shields said he questions the appropriateness of village officials using the village web site to make a one-sided argument in favor of keeping the village government intact.

If voters agree to disband the village government, Shields said, “This is still going to be known as Richfield Springs.”