By Alina Suriel
Months after a standstill in the debate, the dissolution of the Town of Rye is back on the table for the Village of Mamaroneck after board members voted to re-enter talks to plan out the logistics of a new government structure for communities in the village and other affected areas.
The accepted resolution states the village’s intention to proceed with previously proposed plans to dissolve the Town of Rye. In doing so, officials aim to create a more cost effective system of providing services to residents of the area and eliminate an unnecessary layer of government.
The Town of Rye is a governing body which encompasses the villages of Port Chester and Rye Brook, as well as the Rye Neck section of the Village of Mamaroneck. The area of Mamaroneck Village not within the Town of Rye is part of the tax base of the Town of Mamaroneck.
The Town of Rye offers a very limited amount of day-to-day functions to residents as police, fire, and public works services are all covered by the incorporated villages, and a 2012 report on alternatives to services managed by Rye Town shows that the size of its government is much smaller as a result. Rye Town has a full-time workforce of only 17 employees.
The Town of Rye only boasts property assessment, tax collection, license issuing and its own court system. Therefore, several consolidation alternatives which would see it eliminated have been discussed.
The first option was a shift which would have seen all three villages become coterminous town/villages.
According to Republican Rye Town Supervisor Joe Carvin, a vote to attain coterminous status for Mamaroneck Village would be unlikely to gain the voting support of Mamaroneck Town residents, who receive a portion of their tax base from village residents to pay for municipal services.
The option currently being explored would result in Port Chester and Rye Brook remaining villages independent of an overarching town government as well as the part of Rye Neck located in Mamaroneck Village. This possibility was opened up in late spring of 2014 by state Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Rye Democrat, who changed the discussion when he said he believed state law can be read to allow villages to exist without being within the boundaries of a town.
Otis has recently told the Review that he received confirmation of this at a Feb 9 meeting of the New York Conference of Mayors. According to Otis, he spoke on the issue during the meeting and received support, and he also received verification from legal experts in Albany to strengthen his belief that there is no legal impediment to moving forward.
“People having trouble embracing this fact is like proclaiming the earth is flat, when it is round,” Otis said.
Village of Mamaroneck Mayor Norman Rosenblum, a Republican, has charged that he does not agree with Otis’ interpretation that villages are not legally required to be within a town, and says consequently Rye Neck residents will be underserved if not under a town government. The debate surrounding the issue fizzled out without coming to a vote in mid-2014 after it seemed that there would not be enough support from the Village of Mamaroneck Board of Trustees for Otis’ plan to dissolve Rye Town and leave the remaining villages without a town government.
Sources within the village government said that it is one of several topics being revisited in hopes of a different outcome since the election of a new Democratic village board majority last November. The resolution to dissolve Rye Town was drafted by Democrat Leon Potok, who was re-elected in November along with Ilissa Miller and joined on the board by newcomer David Finch.
Rosenblum had doubts about Potok’s interests in the matter, as the trustee does not himself reside in the community of Rye Neck.
“Why is Trustee Potok pushing this?” the mayor said. “It appears he doesn’t give a damn about the residents of Rye Neck and the taxpayers.”
Potok has countered that the mayor could not possibly know if Rye Neck will be more vulnerable until the terms of the dissolution are settled.
“He’s trying to decide for them what the terms will be,” Potok said. “He hasn’t identified what the vulnerabilities will be.”
Although Potok did re-open the discussion on the possibility of Rye Town’s dissolution, the idea was initially proposed back in 2009 after a state grant was offered to municipalities to study ways to consolidate local government services. The Town of Rye and the villages of Rye Brook, Port Chester and Mamaroneck jointly applied for, and were subsequently awarded a $50,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study into the dissolution of Rye Town.
In order for the dissolution bill to pass under state law, residents from each affected municipality must support it in a public referendum.
According to a timeline, the village will likely vote in May on whether to move forward and put the issue of dissolution before its constituents. If the resolution receives enough support within the Board of Trustees, it could lead to a vote as soon as November 2015.
Carvin could not be reached for comment as of press time.