By PHIL NOBILE
According to New York State law, villages must exist within towns.
Or do they?
State Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Rye Democrat, recently said dissolving Rye Town is simpler than previously believed because, as he now reads state law, villages may not have to exist within the borders of town.
This has always been a sticking point in any discussion of the dissolution of Rye Town because the Rye Neck section of the Village of Mamaroneck exists simultaneously in the towns of Rye and Mamaroneck. Under any scenario previously proposed for the dissolution of Rye Town, the fate of Rye Neck, which has no municipal designation and doesn’t provide any of its own services, was always problematic.
According to Otis, his new interpretation of state law suggests Rye Neck could exist as part of the Village of Mamaroneck without any other designation.
But village officials aren’t convinced just yet and are performing their own review of the assemblyman’s work before making any final commitments.
In addition to Rye Neck, the Town of Rye is wholly comprised of the villages of Port Chester and Rye Brook, both of which would be in a position to become coterminous town-villages should Rye Town dissolve, as has been discussed by Otis, state Sen. George Latimer, a Rye Democrat, Republican Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin and a dissolution steering committee since 2011.
A coterminous town-village is a municipality that functions as both. Harrison, Mount Kisco and Scarsdale are currently the only coterminous town-villages in Westchester County.
Port Chester and Rye Brook have been the easy part of the discussion. The bigger problem has been what to do with Rye Neck, which has resided within the Village of Mamaroneck’s borders since the village’s incorporation in 1895.
The traditional interpretation of state law with respect to villages and towns led to a possible “paper town” scenario—first put forth by Democratic Village of Mamaroneck Trustee Leon Potok—that would shrink the Town of Rye to wrap solely around Rye Neck, which would then contract out for its own services, leaving Port Chester and Rye Brook to become coterminous.
But according to Otis, the state law actually allows for villages to exist without town entities—something that “everyone in local government” had always thought, according to the assemblyman, meaning Port Chester and Rye Brook would not need to be made coterminous to comply with the law. Otis said the conclusion was “quite firm,” and that legislation can now be crafted to allow for the Village of Mamaroneck to continue providing services to Rye Neck—such as garbage, fire, and police services—without the existence of a town.
Before any legislation can be written and approved, though, Mamaroneck Village Manager Richard Slingerland said more analysis has to be done.
“We would like the chance to have our village attorneys review and discuss the research that Assemblyman Otis has done, so we can delve down into this issue deeper and reach a conclusion so that the village board can choose whether to move ahead in one direction or another,” Slingerland said.
According to Slingerland, village officials have chosen not to move ahead on the matter until they discuss Otis’ viewpoint. The village Board of Trustees will also debate the fate of Rye Neck’s debt and tax collection and capital funding for bridges and infrastructure, which is currently controlled by the Town of Rye.
Village Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, went further than Slingerland. He said, although the door wasn’t completely shut on Rye Town dissolution, he was “doubtful” the matter would go any further, and village officials were “sitting on the issue” for the time being.
“We asked our own attorneys about Otis’ interpretation and they disagreed, and I have to agree with them,” Rosenblum said. “I don’t think there’s enough support at this time for it.”
Carvin, who led the steering committee to determine whether dissolving the town would be cost-effective, said the Village of Mamaroneck was initially fully supportive of dissolving Rye Town when the possibility of the village becoming coterminous was in play.
“We’re at an impasse, and we need Assemblyman Otis to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Village of Mamaroneck trustees that this solution is viable,” Carvin said. “I’m hopeful and confident the assemblyman’s solution does indeed work and my hope is the Village of Mamaroneck will take up the dissolution again, because this is the best way for them to become a coterminous town-village.”
The possibility of the Village of Mamaroneck becoming a coterminous town-village, an idea for which Rosenblum advocated last year, would ultimately be up to residents in all applicable municipalities, who would vote on the issue if legislation is drafted.
Three previous coterminous votes for the Village of Mamaroneck have failed.
If the village were to become coterminous, it would have a direct impact on the Village of Larchmont and unincorporated Town of Mamaroneck, which would lose a good portion of its tax base.
Rosenblum reiterated his support of turning the Village of Mamaroneck coterminous, listing potential benefits for village residents.
“You eliminate an entire level of government, you get a higher return of sales tax and you have the possibility of higher level of funds from state grants if you become coterminous,” Rosenblum said. “The benefit is immediate for people in the village paying taxes to the unincorporated portions of the Town of Mamaroneck.”
If the Village of Mamaroneck decides to support Rye Town dissolution as Otis currently imagined it, Otis and Latimer will craft state legislation which would dissolve Rye Town and make Rye Neck a part of the village. Once that legislation is approved at the state level, a public referendum is required to be held in each involved municipality on the issue.
Meanwhile, Rosenblum said he hopes to put together an advisory board within the upcoming year to garner the requirements and signatures to hold a vote to turn the village coterminous. He guessed that a vote could be likely come November 2015.
Calls to Potok were not returned as of press time.