Richfield Springs village residents will be going to the polls Oct. 15 to decide whether or not to dissolve their village.
The process to put the matter up for a vote got under way in July when Alexander Shields, a former Otsego County legislator, submitted a petition bearing 100 names calling for a referendum vote on whether or not the village should be dissolved and services be handled by the town of Richfield.
The polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. in the Richfield Town Hall, 18 E. James St., Richfield Springs. The county must receive applications for absentee ballot no later than Oct. 8 and ballots will be mailed to qualified voters no later than Oct. 9. The village clerk must receive them by 9 p.m. on Oct. 15 in order for them to be counted. If the referendum fails, it cannot be brought up again for another two years.
This isn’t the first time the idea of dissolving the village has come up, according to Shields. “Back in the mid 1980s when Bill West was mayor and I was a county legislator, I talked to Mr. West — he and I were in Rotary together — and said we ought to look at the possibility,” he said.
The village board at that time sanctioned a study and Shields was named chairman. “I selected anybody in the village who had an opinion about anything to be on it,” he said. He added a member of the village fire department was concerned about the impact of the change on the department and traveled to Elizabethtown in the Adirondacks, where a similar change had taken place and found the transition doable. A board of commissioners would govern the village-owned fire department.
The study showed one job would be lost. Either the village or town clerk would be laid off. Shields had agreed not to force the issue and the village board did not pursue the matter further.
He raised the again several years ago, according to published reports, but it did not move forward.
Shields stated in an advertisement the dissolution would result in a savings in excess of $200,000 to village taxpayers by eliminating duplicate services. He said his estimate is based on factual information provided by the town and village clerks under the Freedom of Information Act. He pointed out that property taxes cover only the items in the village’s general fund budget, not the water and sewer bills; residents pay for those services as a fee, not a tax.
Richfield Springs Mayor Ronald Frohne II disputed Shield’s claims regarding savings in a statement on the village website.
“The village does a lot of work that the town does not handle,” he said. “There is very little in the way of duplicate services, and where duplication has occurred, efforts to share services are already in place.”
Page 2 of 3 - He said the village does not carry unnecessary staff, and the village staff works to keep budgets in line, making repairs in house when possible.
Frohne said village board members earn only modest stipends with the mayor’s salary set at $4,200 a year and the trustees’ at $2,100 each. The total cost, when Social Security and Medicare are added in, amounts to $13,538.70, he said. The judge’s salary and benefits amount to $5,479.95 while the total for the clerk and treasurer comes to $66,892.32, the mayor said.
“The workload these officers handle would require additional staff be hired by the Town and any newly created districts,” Frohne states on the website. “So the actual savings is more accurately projected to be the $13,538.70 earned by the Board, out of the $536,270 currently raised through taxes.”
Shields said in a telephone interview that when the initial study was conducted, the process required municipalities to come up with a plan for a village to dissolve and become a part of the town. Now a vote is conducted and the transition can take up to two years depending on the complexity.
“Neither the town nor the village has a master plan,” said Shields.
He added while the town has a planning board, in the village the village board handles these matters.
“You have, for the most part, no real special districts in village,” said Shields. “For example, there’s no sidewalk district.” The water and sewer plants would continue to be run for the benefit of the users, he said. Any debt would still belong to the current users and would not be transferred to the town. Districts would have to be formed if more users are to be added and those users would bear the costs. A review of the street department would be necessary to determine what resources the town highway department would have to allocate, he said. He also pointed out while town workers share part of the cost of their health insurance, village workers do not.
The village has one judge and the town has two, Shields pointed out, adding one judge was handling the entire caseload while the other was away.
“There’s a strong possibility that one judge is not necessary,” he said. “It’s a start.”
Shields said he has reviewed the budget carefully, adding he has a good understanding of municipal budgets, having served as a county legislator for 10 years and town supervisor for nine months until health problems forced him to resign. He also served on the three-county solid waste management authority board, serving as treasurer at one time. He ran for supervisor again in 2011, but lost to current town Supervisor Francis Enjem.
Page 3 of 3 - “The village has a general fund budget that covers everything,” he said. “It’s all bundled inside. It’s not transparent.”
Shields takes exception to those who question his motives in bringing forth the petition. He said he is a member and past county commander of the American Legion and has been active in the community for more than 30 years. Those who are critical “have usually done less and have more interest in maintaining the status quo,” he said.
“This is a beautiful community. I love this community,” said Shields. “And people in it are kind and generous for those in need. They are also very independent. I think that’s part of the characteristic of many small communities, particularly in upstate New York. This is not about the mayor and me having differences,” he said. “I’m exercising my constitutional rights.”
Shields urged residents to vote.
“We just had a close primary up here,” he said. “One vote is important.”
Present Town Supervisor Enjem won the Republican primary by two votes over former town supervisor Nicholas Palevsky last month.
Shields said he lost two close friends in the Korean War and they and others died “so we can have the lives we have and have the ability to petition a government.”
Frohne did not return a call asking for comment.