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New Government Structure

Raising Issues on the Future of Villages – Part 1
By Gary S. Howell
Mar 15, 2007, 18:42
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Upcoming elections are raising issues on the future of villages. Blogs are filling up with opinions on merging village services and abolishing them. One erudite blogger on Speakupwny’s Live Forums linked members to an informative report from the State Comptrollers office on villages and finance.

The report, titled Financial Report on Villages is produced by the Office of the New York State Comptroller and was released in October 2006.

It defines New York’s 554 villages as general purpose municipal corporations that exist within one or more towns. From the State’s incorporation until after World War II, villages were densely populated areas of towns where services were needed, but not provided by the towns. People who lived in these areas banded together and formed governments to provide these services.

Post WWII suburbanization forced townships to expand provision of services, reducing the need to create villages. Of the existing 554 villages, only 24 were created after WWII. Most of the post war villages were created by residents who desired to take control of land use regulation and other services.

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Revenues

The major source of income for villages is property taxes. In 2004, the proportion of property tax dollars to total revenues was 2 percent higher for villages (45 percent) compared to towns and cities (43 percent).

From 1995 to 2000, average property tax levies for villages increased at a low rate of 2.4 percent annually. Between 2000 and 2005, average property tax levies increased by 5.1 percent a year. The Comptrollers report cites the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the national recession, and increased employee benefit costs as the main reason for the rapid increase.

Fees, licenses, and other revenues are the second largest source of village revenue. In 2004, these items comprised 17 percent of the average village’s revenue.

State aid made up approximately 7 percent of the average village budget in 2004. Between 1994 and 2004 State aid to villages increased by 160 percent. On the downside, villages receive less State aid as a share of total revenue than cities and towns.

The final major source of revenue for villages is sales tax. In 2004, sales tax made up 5 percent of total revenues.

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Expenditures

Between 1999 and 2004 the average village’s expenditures rose by 5.3 percent a year, more than twice the rate of inflation.

Combined personal services, employee benefits and contractual obligations account for 76 percent of the average village’s expenditures. Employee benefits by themselves comprise 16 percent of expenses.

The largest departmental expenses go towards public safety. The average village spends 22 percent of its budget on public safety. This includes the salaries and benefits of public safety personnel.

The second largest departmental expense is the cost of general government. This category includes costs for elected officials, village clerks, treasurers, appointees, office personnel, and their benefits. The average village spends 17 percent of its budget to keep the wheels of government rolling.

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Village government is expensive. Property owners within villages bear the extra burden of taxes levied by towns and counties.

This every increasing burden is responsible for creating the tax revolt sweeping through Western New York and New York State.

Tax revolt proponents are suggesting a number of ways to reduce the tax burden, including abolishing villages.

Villages can be abolished through a ballot initiative. The initiative must be proposed and put on the ballot by the village’s Board of Trustees. If the initiative is approved by a majority of voters, the village is abolished.

Since 1950, twenty villages abolished themselves. The majority of dissolutions occurred between 1975 and 2003.

Are villages a dying breed?

Not necessarily.

Again, since 1950 twenty villages were abolished. However, in the same time period, 24 new villages were created.

Should dissolution of villages be considered as an option to reduce taxes?

Yes!

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