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Village of Chaumont ponders pros, cons of dissolution

Faced with increasing costs, aging equipment and the prospect of big tax savings for residents, the village of Chaumont is considering dissolution.

But the issue isn't that clear-cut and has become a contentious subject, pitting neighbors and friends against each other in this small community.

Village Mayor Valerie Rust spearheaded the effort to look at dissolution as a possibility for Chaumont.

"We didn't go into this knowing it was going to be a big tax savings," Rust said.

The village considered dissolution for a different reason.

"The biggest thing was because our equipment was low, our DPW was small, and we were lacking in resources. And duplication of services – that was pretty much the biggest thing," Rust said.

But the tax savings are now a big incentive for many who favor dissolution. A study by the Center for Governmental Research found that the tax rate for villagers could be reduced 46 percent – up to 49 percent with state incentive money.

Even so, Rust is now much more cautious about dissolution.

"A dissolution plan always looks good on paper, but to actually put it forth in reality, it doesn't always go that way. Sometimes it puts a wedge through the community," she said.

Rust says there's the promise of efficiency and cost-savings on one hand, versus simple cost-shifting and a loss of representation on the other. She has looked to other villages' experiences with dissolution.

"Sometimes what happens is they will eliminate duplicate services, like, for example, the village board or some of the personnel in the village, and then it will shift over to the town, and after awhile, they start to increase that cost to the taxpayer because of the extra workload. That cost savings wasn't really there at all," Rust said.

If the village dissolves, villagers would retain the services they now receive, such as trash, recycling and brush pick-up and water and sewer service, but they would be governed as a special district within the town by the town council. That means that those who would be making decisions and setting rates wouldn't necessarily be affected by those decisions, since town council members come from throughout the town, not just the village.

Rust says this issue came up at the first of several public forums on dissolution where at least half of the residents were concerned.

"They didn't want to dissolve. They didn't want to lose their services. They didn't feel they were going to be represented by the town board enough. Because there's always been – with any village or town, there's always this 'them' and 'us' mentality. You're not going to get away from it," she said.

This feeling is palpable throughout the village whenever the issue of dissolution comes up.

An hour spent discussing the issue with locals at the popular Duck Stop diner yielded plenty of opinions on dissolution, but no one who would speak on tape. People are afraid of offending their neighbors.

Scott Aubertine is the town supervisor. He is a village resident and Rust's neighbor. While she's skeptical, he favors dissolution. He says there's lots of work that needs to get done, and he thinks the town is better equipped to handle it.

"We've got back streets that need paving, they've got tennis courts, basketball courts that need resurfacing, the village beach could be cleaned up – that was one of my pet projects when I was on the village board quite a few years ago. So there's a lot of things that need to be improved and upgraded, repaired, and I know it's very expensive for the village to do that. And I just think the town can do it at a very reasonable rate," Aubertine said.

Aubertine isn't worried about a lack of representation for village residents.

"We always are going to try to represent all the town residents equally and as fairly as possible," he said.

One thing both Rust and Aubertine agree on is that dissolving the municipality won't erase the community's sense of identity. Both say that is safe, whether or not changes come to local government.

The village will hold another public forum on dissolution in late June. The village board will then vote on whether to include the issue on the November ballot.

If dissolution is approved by the voters, the village will cease operations by December of 2013.