MEDINA — A public hearing hosted by the Medina Dissolution Plan Committee Tuesday was the first chance for public input on a proposal for dissolving Medina into the towns of Ridgeway and Shelby.
A crowd of more than 250 village and town residents did not shy away from publically scrutinizing the plan the committee is preparing to present to village trustees next month as well as their views on what present and future municipal governments should do to reduce local taxes.
The committee’s proposed plan, viewable at www.cgr.org/medina, retains village services and existing service levels by creating new entities for fire, ambulance, water and sewer services to flow into and shifting police, clerical, codes enforcement and road maintenance duties to town governments.
MDPC Chairman Don Colquhoun told the crowd that preserving services, personnel and reducing village taxes were the standards by which the plan was constructed. All three were accomplished, he said.
The CGR-developed plan estimates that $277,000 in local government spending would be reduced through duplications dissolved alongside the village, with another $541,000 in Citizens Empowerment Tax Credits set aside by the state for annual tax relief.
“If you don’t cut services or staff, you don’t see significant savings, but there are savings in the process,” CGR Associate Director Scott Sittig said.
Hearing attendees were greeted with a display of how the proposed plan would reduce taxes for specific homeowners and an explanation on how the gap between village and town taxes hurts all three municipalities.
“It’s a strong incentive to leave the village,” Medina Mayor Andrew Meier, a member of the dissolution plan committee, said. “We’ve seen declining tax bases, and falling revenues to village government. It’s bad for all of us ... a healthy town requires a healthy village.”
But the disparate responses from residents of all three municipalities echoed concerns that doomed previous dissolution efforts in other villages and displayed a community not yet convinced that dissolution is the best solution. Village residents would need to approve a referendum for dissolution, currently targeted for Dec. 31, 2016, to move forward.
Hannah Pollard-Brandt, who owns property in all three municipalities, disagreed with the assertion that dissolution is needed to keep people from leaving Medina.
“I don’t think any of this has to do with not driving people out of the village, people move around to acquire more land, or more space,” Pollard-Brandt said. “Looking at this, they are differing tax from people in the village to people who live outside the village. It feels like we’re pushing it off onto other people.”
Others said increasing town tax rates caused by the addition of new responsibilities and services passed down from the village would send them looking elsewhere to live and work.
“If my taxes go up 46 percent, I’m leaving Ridgeway and probably leaving Orleans County,” Neil Samborski said. “We have farmers ... and Amish and Mennonite people who can’t afford it.”
Villager Todd Bensley said the tax rate reductions would save him a few hundred dollars each year, but he contended that more would be lost in a dissolution than a level of government.
“It sounds good, but with all the things we’re losing, it’s not the right approach to take,” said Bensley, who serves as the village’s historian and is a member of the village planning board. “I chose to live in the village for reasons other than taxes.”
He supports an alternative option not pursued by the village — becoming the City of Medina. Others said they’d prefer the option One Medina, which passed out fliers at the hearing, has proposed — consolidating Medina, Ridgeway and Shelby into a single town.
Shelby resident Karen Jones and others said they’d prefer the committee went back to the drawing board.
“I believe you need to try again,” said Jones, who said her biggest concern was the lack of town inclusion in the plan’s development. “All I heard is that towns are responsible for this, and the towns are responsible for this and the towns are responsible for this. They have to be included.”
Residents raised dozens of suggestions for issues requiring additional study with committee members and CGR officials answering questions both general and increasingly specific.
The hearing was designed to answer questions about the complicated spread of services dissolution presents, largely due to state municipal laws specifying the delivery and organization of fire, police and utility services.
Michael Zelazny wondered whether the additional book-keeping, insurance and administrative costs for new service entities would drain the plan’s savings.
Former Medina Mayor Marcia Tuohey said she wasn’t confident splitting one village’s service between so many entities would control costs.
“There will be five new, separate assessments on the tax bill, and every time you get a separate assessment they go up,” Tuohey said. “(Over time) it will get to the point that you’d be paying more than now.”