Second time’s the charm — at least for those who want to see a vote on dissolving the village.
After months of controversy and a first petition rejected by the Rushville Village Board over a technicality, a second petition got the thumbs-up.
Village Clerk Joanne Burley said Wednesday the board will set a date for a referendum during a board meeting March 29. By law, a date for the referendum must take place between 60 and 90 days after that. Burley said the petition contained 107 signatures, with 104 of those approved as registered voters in the village.
With 409 registered voters in the village, the petition needed a minimum of 85 valid signatures to force a referendum.
Controversy over a vote on dissolution cropped up months ago, sparking a number of heated meetings with citizens passionate on both sides of the issue. At the center of the debate is former mayor Jon Bagley, who lost his re-election bid last March. Bagley circulated both the original petition, which was rejected in January under a new Village Board and Mayor John Sawers, and the recent petition.
The dissolution controversy dovetailed with a clash between Bagley and the Village Board over the future of the village-owned Martin Tire building. As mayor, Bagley and others made a handshake deal with the Imperial Wrestling Club for use of the building. Last month, after legal wrangling, the club moved out of Rushville to a building in Gorham that Bagley bought for club use.
In a response Wednesday to the petition forcing a vote, Bagley said, “the purpose of establishing villages 150-plus years ago was to allow for more control and more services than could be provided for by larger towns.
“Rural areas didn’t want or need the same services as those in the town centers and business districts. They were willing to pay additional taxation for services that couldn’t be provided,” he said. “Those reasons are long bygones of another age.” Bagley and other advocates of dissolution believe the move would save village residents in taxes and streamline operations.
Those against dissolving say they are skeptical about cost savings and fear losing village identity. Some say Bagley is reacting to losing last year’s election to Sawers, which Bagley denies.
Before submitting the first petition, Bagley met with engineers and talked with town supervisors from the towns of Gorham and Potter. Rushville is split between the two towns and their counties: Gorham in Ontario County and Potter in Yates County. Rushville has no ambulance service, police department, or village justice. Gorham Town Supervisor Fred Lightfoote said recently his town already provides certain services for the village, which include assessment services and sharing of some equipment.
But on a decision of whether to dissolve, “it is entirely up to the residents of the village,” Lightfoote said, emphasizing he is neutral and so is his board.
Within the last few years, assorted villages in the region have dissolved including Seneca Falls, Lyons, and Macedon. At its Feb. 6 meeting, the Village Board hosted consultants to talk about dissolution. MRB Group’s Director Diana Smith and Project Manager Connie Sowards, who had worked on the dissolution of the villages of Seneca Falls and Lyons, talked about the pros and cons of dissolving, and how the process affects communities.
“It is not a simple story, not a simple discussion,” says Smith.