SARANAC LAKE - A law that could pass this year would make it easier for municipalities to start the process of consolidation or dissolution.
The New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act has gone through the Local Government committees of both the Senate and Assembly, Dan Mac Entee, spokesman for state Sen. Betty Little of Queensbury, said Wednesday. He said it is now going through other committees.
North Country lawmakers expect the bill to be voted on this year, before the legislative session wraps up at the end of June.
"It's difficult to predict what's going to happen in Albany, but there seems to be a lot of support for it, and it's moving pretty quickly by Albany standards," Mac Entee said.
New York has more than 10,521 local government entities, according to a press release from Little's office. Advocates of consolidation say it can lead to lower taxes and make government more efficient by eliminating overlapping agencies and services.
The bill would provide two ways local governments could reorganize. The first is the creation of a joint reorganization plan by the municipalities involved; the second is a petition from the inhabitants, which would then force the municipalities to draw up a plan.
The number of signatures needed in the new law varies depending on the size of the locality, but in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, the signatures of 10 percent of the voters would be needed to force a reorganization plan.
Under current law, the number of signatures needed and the procedure followed for consolidations, annexations or dissolutions varies. To start the village dissolution process now, either the village board has to initiate it or one-third of the village's voters have to sign a petition. For an annexation - which is what would happen if the village of Saranac Lake were extended to include Harrietstown, or if Harrietstown and Franklin County took in the Essex half of Saranac Lake - more than 20 percent of the property owners in the area to be annexed need to sign the petition.
Under both current law and the new one, a public hearing would be held on a consolidation plan that would then be put before the voters. It would have to be approved by a majority of voters in each of the affected localities to pass.
Under the new law, the reorganization plan could not be put back up to a vote again for at least four years if it fails.
Little, who is a member of the Senate Local Government Committee, is co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate, along with committee Chairwoman Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers.
The bill has broad bipartisan support - Little is a Republican, Cousins is a Democrat, and it was introduced into the Assembly by Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Gov. David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith also support it, as do many legislators.
"The process has been incredibly cumbersome and disjointed in the past," said state Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, a Republican from Peru who is co-sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. "This is a clear path for how it gets done, if the constituents are interested."
"It's a bill I will probably support, but I don't think it gets to the real issue of making the process more streamlined," said Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, a Republican from Willsboro.
Sayward said that if the state wants to see consolidation, it would help the process along more by helping municipalities reduce their debts, possibly even giving them grants to help with this. She said the bill reduces the number of signatures needed but doesn't substantially change or simplify the consolidation process.
"My guess is, this bill is going to go through," Sayward said. "Is it going to make it easier for governments to consolidate? Probably not."
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