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Jun 23, 2009 10:14 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Local senator and assemblyman on opposite sides of consolidation issue

Jun 23, 2009 10:14 AM

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, both Republicans who represent the South Fork, found themselves on opposite sides of a debate over a bill the State Legislature approved this month that makes it easier to consolidate or dissolve villages, towns or taxing districts.

The bill aims to eliminate redundancies and extraneous layers of government that pile on property taxes. But opponents say local control and home rule will suffer as a result of the proposal, which Governor David Paterson is expected to sign into law soon.

Mr. Thiele of Sag Harbor said earlier this month that one of the things taxpayers complain about the most in New York is that they pay high property taxes to so many different municipalities and districts. “In fact, there are over 10,000 units of government in the State of New York,” he pointed out.

The law would apply to towns, villages, and fire, water, library and other special districts. School districts and counties are excluded under the law. Though there already are many state laws on the books for combining districts and municipalities or dissolving them, Mr. Thiele said the new law would make the procedures easier and more uniform.

“As a former town attorney, I’m very much aware of the patchwork hodgepodge of the existing laws that you have with regard to either consolidating or dissolving levels of government,” the assemblyman said.

Mr. Thiele admitted he thinks the bill is not perfect. ”I expect there to be amendments to it,” he said. “There are certainly changes to the bill that I want to see. I thought to move the process forward, to give taxpayers the opportunity to have some impact on the form of their government, that a yes vote was the right vote.”

Right up until the day of the vote in the Senate, June 3, Mr. LaValle of Port Jefferson was planning to vote yes as well. But he said on Monday that when he looked deeper into the legislation and spoke with constituents, he was turned off.

“When I began to look at the details, there were some very troubling provisions in that bill ...” he said. “The piece that was very troubling was that the Suffolk County Legislature could, on their own motion, provide that two villages should consolidate, and all of the people in the county would vote on that consolidation.”

But if a majority of the residents of a village say no to consolidation while the rest of the county says yes, the village’s wishes will be followed, Mr. LaValle said, and holding the vote would mean added costs for villages trying to save themselves from consolidation.

“That was the piece that would really trouble me ...” the senator said. “It sends the right message that we want to save the taxpayers money, but the details of the bill were more troubling with what I felt could be abuse to home rule.”

Mr. Thiele countered that Mr. LaValle misinterpreted the bill. “A county cannot dissolve a village ...” Mr. Thiele said. “Only the village could dissolve itself.”

The text of the law itself reads that the governing body of a government entity, like a village board or board of commissioners, may vote to dissolve the municipality or district, or the electorate may initiate the process. For a consolidation of two or more entities, either the voters need to petition for it or the governing bodies must pass a joint resolution.

Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele, both Republicans, were also on opposite sides of an amendment to the bill that the Republicans introduced to exclude fire and library districts from the law.

Mr. LaValle said since almost all fire departments in New York State rely on volunteers, it would be unwise to mess with fire districts. The whole point of the consolidation bill is to save money, but volunteers are not costing taxpayers much money to begin with, he said.

And as for library districts, he said, “Everyone loves the library,” and no one has come to him during his 33 years in office to ask to consolidate or do away with library districts. Rather, areas that are not served by a local library want to add a library district, he said.

Mr. Thiele said he does not anticipate a rush to do away with any East End fire or library districts. “I think people are very happy with those particular services,” he said.

The assemblyman said that he did not want to exclude fire and library districts from the bill because it would defeat the purpose of the bill. Leaving out certain governmental bodies or making special rules for them would mean that the consolidation and dissolution laws would go right back to being a hodgepodge, he said.

Mr. LaValle and Mr. Thiele agree on one amendment they both said is forthcoming. The way the law reads now, for petitioners in a district or village to get the ball rolling on a consolidation or dissolution referendum, they need to collect the signatures of only 10 percent of the electorate. The legislators said the threshold should be raised to 20 or 25 percent.

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Theile is NOT a Republican! He's a full-on Leftist Democrate that simply wears Republican clothes. all of his views along with his voting record is democrat. Don't confuse the "what's good for Fred works for me" rule.

Sen LaValle has his act together.
By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Jun 28, 09 11:30 PM
On the East End, the bulk of our taxes are for the schools. Take a look at your tax bills. There needs to be consolidation of administrating school districts.
By Bob Whyte (48), Hampton Bays on Jun 30, 09 9:28 AM