Cherry Creek Residents To Vote On Future Of Village Thursday

CHERRY CREEK — Registered Cherry Creek village voters will head to the polls Thursday to decide if that level of government is needed or not.

In November 2016, about 100 Cherry Creek village residents signed a petition in favor of dissolving the village. Per state law, a public referendum on dissolution has to occur within 90 days of the submission of a petition.

“Some people have said, ‘I’m very opposed to it,’ some people have said ‘it’s a good thing.’ They don’t get into a whole lot more detail,” said Village Mayor Bruce Fish.

On Jan. 23, a public meeting was held to discuss findings of the Cherry Creek dissolution study by CGR, a not-for-profit consultant agency based out of Rochester. Kent Gardner, project manager with CGR, says there are two main concerns with residents when discussing the dissolution of a village: what will happen to the services, and what happens to costs?

For the village of Cherry Creek, Gardner notes that town of Cherry Creek will have to create special districts for water and sewer — that would be the main task, should the village dissolve. This is not uncommon in village dissolutions.

“Scattered rural dwellings in the town of Cherry Creek can rely on septic systems and wells. A cluster of homes need sewer and water. When the village dissolves, the need for these ‘clustered’ services doesn’t go away,” reads the report. “But it wouldn’t be fair for all town residents to pay for services that benefit only the homes formerly in the village. The solution is the creation of ‘special districts’ that are under the control of the town but are paid for by the homes within the district. After the village dissolves, the town of Cherry Creek will need to form special districts to provide water, sewer, lighting, and sidewalk plowing and maintenance services. Depending on the will of the village residents, it could also create a refuse district.”

Fortunately for town residents, Gardner says the total cost of providing services to the village residents won’t really change, because the water system is only for village residents now; it doesn’t matter who is running it. The same is true with the sewer system and the streetlights.

As for costs, the village would see savings of about $104,000. The only immediate savings is about the $8,000 the village spends each year, which accounts for the salaries they give to the part-time mayor and the village board.

Long term, the state gives communities that merge extra state aid equal to 15 percent of the combined tax levy of the two communities. In this case, it comes out to $96,000 a year, which would go to the surviving entity, the town of Cherry Creek.

The total tax levy for the town of Cherry Creek is $444,000, so the financial aid is about a quarter of the tax levy for the town.

In terms of costs to the villagers, though, the study does state that there will be a small cost to the former village of Cherry Creek residents.

“As some water expenses now covered by the village property tax would remain with water users, however, all can expect water rates to rise, perhaps as much as 50 percent. Village properties would also be taxed to complete payments on the highway truck acquired a few years ago,” states the study.

There are anticipated savings over time, but it’s hard to say where those savings will come from. The town could go in a number of different directions, from eliminating services such as sidewalk plowing, to changing the number of people in the Cherry Creek — town and village — workforce.

So what led to the recently increasing numbers in villages approaching the topic of dissolution?

According to County Legislator George Borrello (R-Irving) many municipalities are finding it more and more difficult to stay afloat with shrinking populations, a shrinking tax base, and fewer and fewer people that want to run for government positions — and Cherry Creek is no different.

“We have so many uncontested elections, so I think people are often dissatisfied with their elected officials, simply because they don’t have a large enough pool of people that want to volunteer to do those jobs, so I think it’s a bit of frustration with the leadership and the cost of government,” he said.

Another difficulty is making sure residents are aware of both the pros and cons of dissolution so that they can make an informed decision. This means knowing about your local government and information about taxes, rates, special districts and more.

“Dissolution is all based around what is called the Citizen’s Empowerment Act … and what happens is, a citizen-led petition can force a vote on dissolution, but there’s no requirement any study has to be done and any information has to be given, and that, in my opinion, is the flaw in that law,” said Borrello. “So you have concerned citizens that circulate a petition to dissolve, and then it simply says, you have to vote on it in 90 days, and there’s no requirement providing the information to the voters, so the voters are voting based on what information they get through talking to their neighbors and friends instead of getting good, solid information.”

But to make the idea of dissolving more appealing to townships, and to make the process easier when a town is absorbing a village — or even when two municipalities merge, County Legislator Terry Niebel (R-Sheridan) has proposed a plan that would provide funds to villages in Chautauqua County that dissolve, and towns that consolidate or combine.

Essentially, the plan would look at the sales tax revenue of the village or merging entities, and the county would give that money to the town absorbing the village, or the merged municipality, after the first year of consolidation/merging. The return would be the sales tax revenue, or $50,000, which is the cap — whichever is lower.

“Everybody agrees there’s long-term savings in villages that dissolve or towns that combine or consolidate. The concern comes in year one, where the savings are smaller,” said Niebel. “So what this plan will do is help those municipalities in the first year of transition.”

As for the upcoming vote, Niebel says it’s up to the village residents to make an informed decision based on the information they have been presented with. He noted that small villages will continue to face a number of challenges, the first being a financial challenge, as villages struggle to deal with ever-increasing costs of services, which unfortunately are being passed onto the village taxpayers. The second challenge is that it’s becoming more challenging to find people who will run for village office, with many positions being uncontested. These will be challenges for many villages in the foreseeable future.

As of recently, the Cherry Creek Village Board has not had any preliminary discussions with the town to discuss the what-if’s of Thursday’s vote. For some, it is hopeful those conversations will happen soon. For others, it’s doubtful those conversations are necessary. Either way the vote goes, many are confident that either plan will go off without a hitch.

“Whichever way it goes, I think the community will be fine,” said Gardner. “They’ll do what they need to do. If they’re going to dissolve and if they don’t dissolve, I think the village board and mayor will continue to do the kind of job they’ve been doing for the past few years, and that’ll be fine, too.”

Thursday’s vote will be from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the fire hall, 6763 Main St. in the village of Cherry Creek. Only village residents may participate.