If Village of Potsdam dissolves, everything including buildings, airport, trucks and paperclips goes to town
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM – If residents vote in November to dissolve the village government, everything the village owns or is responsible for will get turned over to the town a little more than a year later.
The village owns many big-ticket items including buildings such as the Civic Center, DPW garage, and water and sewage treatment facilities. Also on the list are the airport, parking lots, parks, empty house lots and big vehicles such as trucks and backhoes.And the municipality also owns lots of smaller things like telephones, computers, police equipment, office furniture, pens and paper clips, and street signs – hundreds of street signs.
“Every last piece becomes property of the town if the vote is for dissolution,” said Dissolution Study Committee Chairman Timothy Connolly.
The Village of Potsdam Dissolution Study Committee is preparing its final report for delivery to the village board by the end of July. Then village staff and the board will review it, hold hearings, make changes if they like, and take a vote on whether or not to put the issue on November’s election ballot.
If the village rejects the plan and opts not to put it to a village-wide vote, petitioners could force a referendum within a couple of months.
If it does go up for a vote by registered voters in the village, the issue of what happens to the village and all it owns will be decided on Nov. 8.
If voters choose dissolution, Connolly said, then from the day after Election Day through Dec. 31, 2012, “turnover” day, the village and the town governments will have to sort it all out.
“Then the village would lock the doors and hand Marie (Regan) or whoever will be the supervisor the keys to it all,” Connolly said.
Could Liquidate Property
Connolly said there is no plan for the village to liquidate any of its property before the turnover, “but village government could decide it’s in the best fiscal interest of the residents” to, for instance, “sell a vacant lot on Clough Street to pay down retirement debt.”
Not that he’s suggesting that. The job of the committee is not to give the village board a detailed set of recommendations, but to provide a guide to what the options are if the village “goes away,” Connolly said.
The report the committee will present to the village board this week “is not a detailed transition document,” he said.
“The village can make changes as sweeping as they may see fit,” he said. But he doesn’t foresee anything radical happening, since “there are members of the village board on the committee, and we’ve all kept the board apprised, so I think they are on the same page as the committee.”
After Election Day, Nov. 8, “the process will be driven almost exclusively by the town board” if the village is to be dissolved, he said.
And Connolly says the members of the committee have also “done our best to make sure the town board was with us,” but perceptions on both the town and village boards could change in the next election, as not only the dissolution question is voted on but new members could be elected to both governing boards.
Some of the choices the town would face could be tougher than they might have thought.
Frequently, as more and more towns and villages talk about the hope of saving money if they consolidate some services or dissolve a village and let the town handle it all, one of the things they look at is public works and highway departments.
Connolly notes that in Potsdam, the town highway department has tandem-axle trucks that are heavy and higher capacity, and the village has single-axle trucks that are more maneuverable on village streets. The town would have to decide if they need all those trucks and, if so, they might need to keep both the town and village garages open to have room for them all.
The town would also have to be aware, he said, that the Federal Aviation Administration does not look kindly on changes to or closures of airports that the FAA has sunk lots of money into.
“On other properties, the town would be able to do as they see fit. But over the years, the village has accepted a lot of FAA money for improvements at the airport. If the town wanted to change anything there, the FFA could demand their money back.”
Then there is management of village records.
“During that year, the village clerk would transition all the paper over to the town clerk. Where the file cabinets would end up would be the town’s decision,” Connolly said.
If the vote in November is not in favor of dissolution of village government, that’s not necessarily the end of the issue.
Connolly says that after four years pass, citizens could petition to start the process again, leading up to another vote.
Connolly also notes that the committee compiled some ideas in the “Options” section of their report that could save money and might be worth trying, dissolution or not.
Among those options is a brush drop-off site rather than having the municipality picking it up for disposal as the village does now.
Another idea, which came from village water treatment chief Bob Henninger, would be to move the water meters of large consumers, such as the hospital and the colleges, closer to the street. The consumer is responsible for maintenance of the pipe from the street to the facility, so metering the water at the building end of that pipe doesn’t account for leakage in that stretch of pipe. Putting the meter at the street end gives the consumer the monetary incentive to fix leaks in the pipe.
“Bob said many municipalities have saved quite a bit in capacity,” Connelly said.
“There’s a heck of a lot of good stuff we came across -- big things, little things –which could improve operations,” he said. He just doesn’t want it to become “shelfware,” gathering dust.