The Town of Rye could cease to exist. Or not. The first of 3 public forum meetings that will examine the issue of town dissolution and other possible options for government services took place last Saturday at the Port Chester Senior Center.
A website has also been launched so community members can give their input, register for updates and see important information about area municipalities and the study itself. Check out the slideshow from the meeting here.
Rye Town Supervisor Joseph Carvin, who is running for re-election, along with Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein, Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla and Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum have agreed to work together on a study of the current state of village, town and city overlap in the area.
Assemblyman George Latimer complimented the group and the residents for their efforts, "This bottom up consolidation discussion is what this meeting is all about."
Carvin who poked fun of his position, said he knew that some people thought all the town supervisor did was run a park and acknowledged that village government delivers the bulk of public services.
"The whole reason for the study was to find out if the existence of town offered benefits for the residents," said Carvin. "The whole point is that services have to be provided, the question is how to provide them."
"The reason we’re studying is to be open minded," said Rye Brook Mayor Joan Feinstein. "Can it be done more efficiently? It's time we look at this in a really professional manner."
The Center for Government Research (CGR), a 96 year-old, non-partisan think tank based in Rochester will conduct the study. Dr. Joseph Stefko, director of public finance, and research associate Ana Liss are in charge of the Rye Town study. Stefko said there are about half a dozen similar studies going on around the state and a few more in neighboring New Jersey; this one will take five to seven months.
Stefko said the purpose of the study is to ask "what-if" questions about the Town of Rye. What if the town was dissolved, what kind of government structure might replace it? But he stressed that the public would drive the outcome, "Our role is not to come in and say this is what you should do, we see our role as informants."
In other communities facing the issue of consolidation, Stekfo said he has seen that many more factors go into residents' decisions than potential tax savings.
"Very few towns that study dissolution actually go through with it," said Stefko. "It's about 10 to 1 those that study it to those that actually do it. People have certain feelings about their community. Dollars and cents are important, but only one type of consideration."
Stefko said Seneca Falls is the largest municipality in the state to actually decide to dissolve.
The Town of Rye is an interesting case, Stefko said, because in its center is the City of Rye, which established its own governance in 1942, and separates Rye Neck from the rest of the area. Stefko said CGR is also working with Ossining which has a similar layout.
The study will also look specifically at what options would be available to Rye Neck if it was left between the towns of Rye and Mamaroneck.
Many of the residents at the meeting wanted to know if the Village of Port Chester could become a city.
Stefko said that option "could be looked at and compared to all the others." Stefko also clarified that cities do not have to have certain population density or industry to qualify. The status of city, he said, has more to do with revenue structure than anything else.
Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla asked Town Supervisr Joseph Carvin to put any plans to sell town assets on hold until the study was complete, referrng to the garage.
State law requires that villages be part of a town. When Village of Mamaroneck trustee John Hofstetter asked if the possibility of the villages dissolving was considered, Mayor Feinstein of Rye Brook said that option was not allowed.
Currently, Rye Neck shares some services with the Village of Mamaroneck and even the City of Rye. Rye Brook currently shares its library and fire services with Port Chester.
Emergency response and ambulance service is shared between the Villages of Rye Brook and Port Chester and the City of Rye.
The Village of Rye Brook explored a co-terminous system of government in 2004.
School districts are defined and governed separately from municipal government, so their territories can overlap towns and villages in very interesting ways. The Port Chester School District, for example, also serves part of Rye Brook; the Blind Brook-Rye Union Free School District serves another portion of Rye Brook.
"This is the start of a very important journey," said Port Chester Mayor Dennis Pilla. "We will look at the options and figure out what is win-win."