Local government reduction trend keeps going, slowly

Slowly and surely, residents are chipping away at our burdensome system of too many local governments.

In the 15 years between 1994 and 2009, only two New York villages were dissolved, but in the decade since there have been 25, according to New York’s Department of State.

Here in the North Country in that last decade, voters agreed to dissolve the villages of Edwards (population 430) in St. Lawrence County in 2012, Keeseville (population 1,800) in Essex and Clinton counties in 2014, Hermon (population 400) in St. Lawrence County in 2016, Port Henry (1,150) in Essex County in 2017, Harrisville (population 600) in Lewis County in 2018 and, at the end of this year, Morristown (population 400) in St. Lawrence County. Also, voters chose to merge the Elizabethtown-Lewis and Westport school districts this year.

It’s the smallest non-mandatory municipalities (towns are required to exist, villages aren’t) that are most subject to this trend. To resist it may take local willpower.

For instance, within the last month in western New York, a taxpayer group is petitioning to dissolve the village of Sinclairville, population 550. It received 95 signatures in a petition in favor of the dissolution — a significant number for this community.

When you look at its 2018 election, those 95 signatures are even more impressive. The village had two open trustee seats and no names on the ballot, and 17 total votes were cast. One write-in had nine votes, and the other had three.

In that election alone, the voters spoke. They said they really do not care.

Franklin County has some tiny villages, too, and their civic engagement could use improvement as well. Chateaugay (population 800) needed write-ins to fill trustee seats in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and Brushton (population 450) needed write-ins for mayor and a trustee in 2016.

We’re not calling for these villages to dissolve — that’s up to the people who live there — but if citizens don’t get involved and prove that these mini-municipalities are necessary, the people’s will to keep them going may ebb.