Highland Falls petition for village dissolution vote declared valid

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HIGHLAND FALLS – A petition presented this month to dissolve the 115-year-old village of Highland Falls has been deemed valid, paving the way for a mandatory referendum by village voters this year.

Village Clerk Regina Taylor confirmed Monday that the citizens’ petition filed with her office on July 2 met all legal requirements under state law to force the question onto the ballot. This means that the village council, which is due to meet on July 19, must schedule a referendum within 30 days and hold the vote within 60 to 90 days.

The vote will allow Highland Falls voters to determine whether they should abandon their town and government and be governed and overseen by the City of Highlands. Leaders of a group that collected 405 petition signatures said their main interests were to eliminate unnecessary duplication of government services and stabilize municipal finances.

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Katharine Dagaev and Joe DeWitt, two leaders of the petition effort, said Monday they had just learned of the validation of the petition and began the next phase of their campaign: gathering and disseminating information on how the dissolution would affect both the city and the inhabitants of the village.

Dagaev said the group will likely distribute flyers and hold a town hall-style session where people can speak out for both for and against the proposal. She hopes to bring in an emergency services official and New York State Department representative to talk about the potential consequences.

FILE PHOTO - Main Street in Highland Falls, NY

Dagaev and DeWitt said they hope to correct a misconception that Highland owners and businesses outside of Highland Falls should share in the village’s accumulated bond debt if it is dissolved. They said payments for debts now exceeding $ 8 million would be allocated strictly to Highland Falls landowners, even if the village no longer existed.

“The people of Fort Montgomery would not accept our debt,” Dagaev said.

DeWitt also wanted to allay fears that Highland Falls would lose its long-standing identity by stripping itself of its municipal status and government. The Highland Falls name and postcode would still exist, but would refer to an unincorporated hamlet rather than a village, much like Fort Montgomery.

“The village is not disappearing,” he said. “Highland Falls becomes a hamlet, that’s all.

Approximately 5,500 people live in Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery, which make up the entire population of the Town of Highland outside of West Point.

Highland Falls Mayor Joe D’Onofrio did not respond to a call for comment on the proposal on Monday.

More than 20 New York villages have been dissolved by referendum since 2011, according to state records. The village of South Nyack in Rockland County is set to dissolve and be ruled by the town of Orangetown over the next two years after a 508-292 vote in favor in December.

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