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July 23, 2013

Petition started to dissolve village of Richfield Springs

Former county rep Alex Shields says move would save $200,000 a year

Joe Mahoney
The Daily Star

---- — Would the people of the Richfield Springs be willing to do away with the village government?

That's the hope of Alex Shields, a former county representative who has collected 100 signatures on a petition calling for a village-wide vote on dissolving the local government. If such a move is approved, all current services provided by the village would instead be offered by the town, and village employees would become town employees, he said.

In an interview with The Daily Star, Shields estimated that dissolving the village government will save taxpayers "in excess of $200,000"  annually.

He said he arrived at that conclusion after analyzing financial information from both the town and village governments.

Village Mayor Ronald Frohne said he was strenuously opposed to Shields' push to dissolve the village. He also rejected the claim that the proposal would save taxpayer dollars.

"He has no facts to support his claims," Frohne said. "This would take away representation at the local level. It just sounds hurtful. We just celebrated our 150th anniversary as a village a couple of years ago."

He said some residents who signed the petition have already contacted village hall, asking to have their names from the document and noting they only signed it to get Shields off their backs.

Shields said town residents living outside of what is now the village would not end up subsidizing the sewer and water services that would continue to be provided to the village residents because sewer and water districts would be created.

Discussing his own amalgam of tax bills, Shields said the tax he has to pay to the village this year will exceed his combined tax bills from the town, the county and the local school district.

"A lot of people here are having a problem paying their taxes," Shields said. Eliminating the village government, he contended, would bring about "much greater efficiency." He noted the town has two town justices, one of whom also services as a justice in the village court. That position, he said, would be eliminated if there was consolidation.

While declining to offer a prediction on the outcome of a referendum, if one is authorized by village clerk, Shields said: "My position is to give the people a choice to exercise their constitutional right" by weighing in on the proposal..

The village has 662 registered voters, he said.

If a referendum were to be defeated, a similar measure cannot be brought before by voters again for another two years, he added.

Asked if he'd be willing to debate his proposal in public, Shields said, "I'd be more than happy to have a civil discussion with anyone who disagrees with me."

Under the law, Shields said, the village clerk has 10 days to act on the petition. A total of 66 valid signatures are needed to authorize the referendum. If the petition is deemed valid, the village board, once notified by the clerk, has 30 days in which to schedule a public referendum on whether voters agree or disagree to dissolve the village.

Shields ran for town supervisor in 2011, but was defeated by current Town Supervisor Fran Enjem.

If the referendum is held, voters living in the town outside the village would have no say in the outcome.

Enjem, who lives on Canadarago Lake outside the village, said he wants to learn more about the consolidation proposal before weighing in on it.

But he suggested it would be possible that dissolving the village could lead to higher taxes for some town residents, while others would see lower tax bills, and some public employees could end up being laid off.