Residents see benefits in early village dissolution plans

FORT JOHNSON — The first details about the process and potential impacts of the dissolution of Fort Johnson Village Government apparently won over residents packed into City Hall on Wednesday.

A dozen residents who signed up to ask questions or make comments at a disbandment information meeting declined when the opportunity arose, saying their concern was addressed during the presentation by Ben Syden of Laberge Group.

The village hired the planning firm to prepare a proposed dissolution plan by studying the various impacts after the board voted in February to explore the process.

The council began discussing the option a year early due to lack of interest and involvement in the village from residents, which raised concerns about long-term leadership and operations.

Groupe Laberge is still in the early stages of gathering information about the village to analyze the impacts of the dissolution on governance, services and financial resources. These details will inform a plan to transition operations to the city of Amsterdam which would absorb the village.

The plan will be presented to the board when completed for a final review which, if adopted, will lead to a public referendum allowing registered voters in the village to have the final say.

Officials and residents of Amsterdam cannot vote on whether the village dissolves and is absorbed into the city. However, Fort Johnson and City of Amsterdam officials are working closely on the analysis and plan to ensure a smooth transition should dissolution be approved.

Several residents indicated that the delivery of snow removal and the maintenance of public works in the village were their biggest concerns if Fort Johnson was absorbed into the city.

Amsterdam Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said full-time village road staff would be hired to continue servicing Fort Johnson’s roads and public spaces with support, as needed, from the largest number of employees in the city.

The only other village staff, a part-time administrative employee and another public works employee, have announced their intention to retire. Syden pointed out that Amsterdam provides the same services offered at Fort Johnson with more staff to take on additional duties.

Snow removal is a concern for Richard Smith who has lived on a hilltop in the village for about 40 years. Fort Johnson crews have always done a good job clearing the road, and Smith was confident at the meeting that the city could continue to provide those same services.

“I think it’s a good thing, personally,” Smith said of the breakup. “I would like to see him. I think it will benefit everyone. »

The impact on taxpayers was the other main concern expressed by residents. Homeowners who pay a tax rate of $86.71 per $1,000 of assessed value in Fort Johnson can save money if the village is absorbed by Amsterdam where there is no citywide tax. city.

City property owners pay taxes to cover the cost of fire protection services. The rate for Amsterdam residents in the Fort Johnson fire district is $24 per $1,000 of assessed value this year.

Fort Johnson landowners have the added responsibility of paying off the village’s sewer debt. The flat rate was $185.45 in 2021.

Happy murmurs swept through the crowd as Fort Johnson Mayor Michael Simmons said the village would pay off the sewer debt if the local government was dissolved. Whether this is accomplished with reserve funds or another source is still being determined.

A special sewer district to pay for services and maintenance in the village through user property taxes should be created.

“If it’ll lower taxes, that’s probably a good thing,” new resident Joe Raczes said of the breakup.

Trying to allay any concerns about a potential loss of identity, Syden noted that Fort Johnson would keep its name but simply become a hamlet instead of a village. Plans on how to dispose of the village’s assets are still being drawn up.

The city would retain the existing fleet and likely take over the installation and equipment of the freeway. Village Hall would potentially be acquired by the Fort Johnson Volunteer Fire Company, which would continue to provide services to the village and town.

The residents’ lack of interest in getting involved in pursuing the independent management of the village is a clear indication to resident Mary Maines that dissolution must be pursued.

“The board here can’t get help, people are retiring and nobody wants to run for office,” Maines said. “If all of these people tonight just showed up to normal meetings and showed up to participate and run for office, you wouldn’t have that.”

There is already a close relationship between the two municipalities with shared staff and support offered when needed.

Fort Johnson already has representation in Amsterdam where Maines and village resident Ronald DiCaprio sit on the city council. The presence of the village in the city makes residents of Fort Johnson eligible to seek an office in Amsterdam.

A draft dissolution plan with more precise details should be prepared in about two months and will be presented at a public meeting where
residents can ask questions
and comment, Syden said.

The Fort Johnson board could then make revisions before deciding whether to adopt the document to proceed with the dissolution or reject it to end the process without action.

A public hearing would be held on the plan if it is approved before the public referendum, which Syden said
could take place in about six months.

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