Disagreement runs rampant in Rushville as vote to dissolve nears
The Lunch Box, a Main Street diner in Rushville, was buzzing Sunday. Families were out hosting dads for breakfast, and the management didn’t want a reporter asking patrons about the vote to dissolve the village.
“It’s Father’s Day … we’re Switzerland here,” a woman called from the kitchen, referring to that conflict-free nation.
Outside the restaurant, reports surfaced of stolen lawn signs and people talked about tensions as the June 27 vote nears. On the One Rushville Facebook page promoting dissolution, the group responded to the backlash by stating One Rushville would hold its Thursday meeting as planned, posting: “In a strange twist of fate, it has been beneficial. In fact, we are getting a tremendous amount of support. We will see everyone Thursday evening! Please bring your Vote Yes signs inside your homes at night to keep them safe…”
Bill Farnham, a village resident who reported stolen signs, is fed up with politics in the village. A supporter of dissolution — a process that was spearheaded by former mayor Jon Bagley — Farnham said he thinks “the current administration is making a fool of the village,” and fueling “general animosity” toward those who plan to vote “yes” to dissolve. Speakers will present information at the Thursday meeting, said Farnham, a retired winemaker with Constellation Brands. He said he hopes people attend and listen.
Retired contractor Ron Swartwood, a longtime village resident, is also fed up. He’s also on the flip side of the issue.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said Swartwood, a Marine Corps veteran who lives on North Main Street and displays a “Vote 'NO' to Dissolution” sign in his yard. Swartwood said the controversy over whether to dissolve has gotten out of hand, with stolen and destroyed signs and bad feeling with residents taking sides and taking opinions personally.
“It’s petty politics … a spitting contest,” said Swartwood. He said social media has added to the trouble. “Personal issues shouldn’t be on Facebook or anywhere else that’s public,” he said.
One of the complicating factors in how dissolution would play out lies with the village’s split between two towns in two counties. The north side of the village is in the Ontario County town of Gorham. The south side is in the Yates County town of Potter. If the village dissolved, about half the properties would become Gorham’s responsibility and the other half, Potter’s.
At a meeting this spring hosted by the Village Board and MRB Group consultants, MRB representatives — who denied allegations of conflict of interest in presenting pros and cons of dissolution — talked about possible outcomes.
Because Rushville falls in two towns and two counties, property tax rates per $1,000 assessed valuation would be different for current Rushville residents depending on where they live, said MRB’s Diana Smith. This year, Rushville needs a $153,223 tax levy to fund its preliminary $475,875 budget. This year, everyone is assessed at the same tax rate. But post-dissolution, because Ontario County shares sales tax with its municipalities, its residents will see lower property tax rates than residents in Yates County, which does not share sales tax revenue.
However, Smith also said that if Rushville dissolves, both towns could receive Local Government Citizen Empowerment Tax Credit (CETC) annually. This would be 15 percent of the combined amount of real property taxes levied in all of the involved municipalities within Gorham and Potter, not to exceed $1 million — as long as CETC is approved annually by the state Legislature as part of the state budget.
Tax rates would likely go down for village residents, if they voted in favor of dissolution, Smith said. But by how much? And would village services be impacted? “To answer that would be sheer speculation — nothing more than conjecture,” Smith said.
Bagley said the One Rushville informational meeting Thursday will bring in two speakers involved with recent dissolutions in Wayne County: Former Mayor Bill Murray of Macedon; and Jack Bailey, who led the campaign to dissolve the village of Lyons. Macedon dissolved this year, and Lyons dissolved last year.
At one of Bagley’s properties in the village on Sunday, longtime resident Layton Liberatore was washing clothes at the Lost Sock laundry on Main Street. Liberatore said he is impressed with the numerous properties Bagley owns in the village, which include an apartment building across from the laundry. Liberatore, who works for Walmart, said he finds the properties well-maintained and an asset to the village. He thinks arguments for dissolving the village, which include tax savings for village residents, are good ones.
Swartwood said he doesn’t think the savings — if there are any — would amount to much. He said it wouldn’t make up for what he likes about living in a village: the close connection with elected officials and employees who put village interests first.
“Gorham is a great group,” said Swartwood, who lives in the Gorham section. “But they can’t be everywhere. Our guys live here. They are right up the street."
Tim Randolph lived in Rushville for about 20 years before moving a few miles away to the town of Italy about a year ago. Randolph has been following the dissolution issue, with the former and current Village Board at odds and friction between neighbors. He doesn’t like what he sees.
“It’s like watching a soap opera,” he said. “It’s bad all around.”