Dan Hust | Democrat
LIBERTY MAYOR WILLIAM "Rube" Smith makes a point during Thursday's public hearing on consolidating the village with the Town of Liberty. Smith, unlike most others, did not take a stance but simply asked the public for direction.
Liberty debates merger
By Dan Hust
LIBERTY Thursday’s public hearing on merging the Village of Liberty with the Town of Liberty featured a lot of information but little consensus.
That’s not surprising, considering town taxpayers would have to shoulder a tax increase to absorb the village, while village taxpayers would save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
This meeting, too, may be all town residents get. According to Dennis Rapp of the Hudson Group (the consulting firm that studied merger options through a $100,000 state grant), the township has no say in the matter.
“The town government has no choice” by state law, said Rapp.
If village residents approve a merger via simple majority (no two-thirds’ vote needed), “the town has to accept it,” he added.
“That’s not democratic,” complained a woman in the packed senior center in Liberty that evening.
“Who said it was?” Rapp replied with a sympathetic smile.
Nevertheless, the nearly 200 people who came out Thursday were shown five options regarding the proposed merger.
Option 1 was actually labeled “Option 0,” as it involved simply doing nothing and leaving things as they are.
But since village residents stagger under the weight of a per-capita tax rate beaten by only two other municipalities in the state, that’s not seen as an option (at least in the village itself).
Option 1, though, is not a merger either. It’s a compromise, whereby only the municipalities’ highway departments would be combined, leaving the rest separate and the village government intact. Those who own a house in the village valued at $150,000 would pay about $177 less a year, while those with a similarly assessed home in the township would pay $75 more.
Option 2, however, offers a full consolidation, eliminating 17 village jobs over 2-4 years and saving the owner of a $150,000 house in the village about $1,100 a year. (The owner of a comparably assessed home in the Town of Liberty would pay $422 more per year.)
Option 3 takes advantage of state aid designed to promote consolidation though whether the village and town would actually receive it remains uncertain. However, such a plan would save a village homeowner more than $1,300 a year on a $150,000 house and only cost town homeowners $214 more a year on a similarly assessed home.
Option 4 is nearly identical to Option 3, save that the state aid is factored out and a village police force is maintained. Such a scenario would cost a village homeowner (again, of a $150,000 house) $364 less every year but a town homeowner $114 more.
Naturally, town residents demanded to know Thursday evening what was in any of this for them.
“Is there a way we can tell you everyone’s going to benefit?” replied Joint Study Committee member Charlie Barbuti. “It’s not going to happen.”
But, he added, “if this downtown should continue in a downward spiral, your taxes are going to go up.… Our best bet is to think as a community.”
Indeed, it was pointed out that village taxpayers are also town taxpayers, and they pay a disproportionate share of town taxes because their home values have declined while town residents’ have increased.
Still, even some village residents had concerns, mostly about retaining the police department and sanitation services.
Village leaders, too, weighed in against the merger (though Liberty Mayor William “Rube” Smith simply urged the public to give the board direction).
“Consolidation and merging is a big mistake,” said Liberty Police Chief Robert Mir, pointing citizens to nytowns.org for proof. “... Nothing good will come out of it.”
Village Trustee Joan Stoddard agreed, reminding all that she and others moved into the village for its services.
Village Justice Harold Bauman worried that his 900+ cases might overwhelm the town, while resident Matt Frumess passionately urged the audience to forget about merging.
“I’m dead set against the dissolution of the village,” Frumess remarked, lamenting that just a one-vote majority could ensure the village’s permanent disappearance.
Those that did argue for merger still wanted to see the police department kept intact.
“Without police in this village, what might happen?” asked Liberty Police Officer Scott McAfee.
For more details on the merger options, log on to the town’s website at www.townofliberty.org.