HARRISVILLE — Most speakers on Monday night called for a public vote on village dissolution, and trustees ultimately complied.
Following an hourlong public hearing attended by about 35 people, village board members voted 4-1 to accept a dissolution plan and hold a referendum on the matter. No vote date was set, but that will likely be done at the next board meeting March 5.
Mayor Gary L. Williams cast the lone dissenting vote after suggesting he hadn’t intended to immediately vote on the issue.
“I came here to listen, and that was the extent of it,” he said. “I want to go home and chew on this and think on it.”
However, other board members — while expressing some misgivings on handing over control of the village water system and existing reserve funds — ultimately chose to put the matter to a public vote.
“Bottom line, it should be up to the voters,” said Trustee Julie Malbeuf, who made the motion.
Most residents at the meeting agreed.
“Whether you are for it or against, it doesn’t matter,” village resident Kelly Ritz said. “It’s your choice. But it will be an injustice to each and every taxpayer if this board decides not to move forward.
“We as taxpayers are prepared to move forward and get this to a referendum ourselves, if need be. Each and every one of you on this board work for us, and it’s time to put your own personal agendas aside and do the right thing for the taxpayer.”
Officials with the Development Authority of the North Country, which prepared the dissolution study, have said village residents could force a public vote via petition if board members did not approve one, and a few local residents, including Mrs. Ritz, began passing such petitions in December.
In late 2016, Mrs. Ritz kicked off the dissolution discussion by circulating a petition that would have required commencement of the dissolution study process.
While that petition was deemed invalid by the village clerk, trustees decided to move forward with such a study, anyway, and a dissolution committee has spent the past year working on a study with DANC officials.
The study projects dissolution could result in a 57 percent decrease in tax rates for village residents and a 2 percent drop for town of Diana residents.
State Citizens Reorganization Empowerment grant funding — which is paying for at least half of the costs of the $25,000 dissolution study and could cover 90 percent if it results in dissolution — also would be available to assist with implementation, DANC officials have said.
The state fund would also be expected to pay the town $109,376 annually in perpetuity if dissolution were to occur.
Diana Town Supervisor David Parow said the committee did a good job, suggested people shouldn’t “live under fear” that the state funding might some day be lost and, as a village resident, requested a referendum.
“Voters in the village should have an opportunity to have a voice,” he said.
“Change is not an easy thing, especially for things so close to the heart,” said Jessica L. Jenack, a member of the dissolution committee and LeRay’s town planner.
However, she said, the committee came to a consensus that dissolution would reduce duplication of services, and no services would be lost under the plan, as the town would contract for water operation and the town highway crew, with an additional worker, would handle any maintenance needs in the village.
A few others also spoke in favor of dissolution, while Mr. Williams’ wife, Nancy, a former village clerk, argued that the village has been more progressive than the town and said she would be concerned that dissolution could lead to a less vibrant community.
“I firmly believe the village corporation is the best way to go,” she said.
The mayor expressed concern that more than one town worker may need to be hired for village maintenance and touted some possibilities for improvements, including reuse of the Harrisville Dry Kiln facility and implementation of municipal natural gas service.
However, dissolution committee members said they did factor in enough manpower, and resident Dixie Dickinson suggested that such initiatives could also be accomplished without a village, so long as the mayor was willing to share his contacts.