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Fort Johnson voters OK village dissolution

Ashley Onyon, The Daily Gazette
Posted 11/18/22

Voters in Fort Johnson have overwhelmingly approved a proposition to dissolve the village government for absorption into the town of Amsterdam.

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Fort Johnson voters OK village dissolution

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FORT JOHNSON — Voters in Fort Johnson have overwhelmingly approved a proposition to dissolve the village government for absorption into the town of Amsterdam.

The proposition passed 90 to 23 in a referendum conducted at Village Hall. Nearly 80% of the total vote was in favor of dissolution.

“We presented the options to the voters and they decided,” Fort Johnson Mayor Michael Simmons said Wednesday. “I’m happy that it did pass and I’m glad that we had a good showing of voters.”

Mounting concerns about the village’s long-term operations led officials earlier this year to initiate the dissolution process that culminated in this week’s vote. “It will relieve the issues we’ve had in the village with participation and with the retirements we have upcoming,” Simmons said.

While the roughly 37.79% voter turnout might seem low in the village with 299 registered voters, Simmons was pleased with the showing that far outpaced typical participation in village elections. He estimated only around 25 residents cast ballots in the two most recent elections.

“The percentage is much higher for this vote than a normal election,” Simmons said. “It was great.”

Simmons credited leaders from Fort Johnson and the town of Amsterdam for the voters’ approval. The officials worked with the Laberge Group to craft a sound plan for the transition of services and governance, he said.

“We reassured them that there is really not going to be any change in the services they get; there will probably be even more services available to them,” Amsterdam Town Supervisor Thomas DiMezza said. “I think it’s a good thing for everybody involved.”

The village government will formally dissolve on Dec. 31, 2023. The town of Amsterdam will assume governance over Fort Johnson and be responsible for providing all public works services. Fort Johnson will retain its name and become a hamlet within the town.

All elected and staffed positions in the village will be eliminated. Fort Johnson’s clerk and one of its two laborers were already planning to retire. Amsterdam has committed to hiring the village’s remaining worker to continue public works tasks in Fort Johnson with the added support of town staff.

The immediate savings to Fort Johnson residents on their property tax bills following the transition was another convincing factor, Simmons said.

Village property taxes will be eliminated when Fort Johnson dissolves into Amsterdam, where there is no townwide tax, although property owners do pay taxes for fire protection services. The village tax rate was $86.71 per $1,000 of assessed property value this year.

Services from the Fort Johnson Volunteer Fire Company will continue to be provided locally with the village to be absorbed into the Fort Johnson Fire District. The property tax rate for fire service was previously estimated at $22.87 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Villagers will continue to pay sewer usage fees at their existing rates, but the annual fee of $185 per parcel for sewer debt from a past capital project will be eliminated when Fort Johnson pays off the roughly $349,000 remaining balance with reserve funds prior to dissolution.

Fort Johnson leaders will continue handling operations within the village throughout the coming year as officials from the two municipalities begin formalizing details ahead of the transition.

The majority of Fort Johnson’s assets will be turned over to the town of Amsterdam, including most equipment, vehicles and property. Both Village Hall and the fire house will be turned over to the Fort Johnson Volunteer Fire Company.

Town staff will likely review existing operations in Fort Johnson with village staff later next year before duties change hands on Jan. 1, 2024. If needed, DiMezza said the town could lend support with snow removal early next winter depending on retirement plans for the village’s laborer.

“From the town’s perspective, there is going to be a little more work to do,” DiMezza acknowledged. “The changes that are going to take place in the overall moving over of everything will be minuscule as far as residents go.”

The town and village already use many of the same systems, which should ease the transition, according to DiMezza. Increased expenses should be virtually covered through revenues that will be reapportioned from Fort Johnson to the town.

Simmons is confident the dissolution of the village government at the end of next year will only benefit residents and that the town of Amsterdam will ensure that Fort Johnson continues to be well served.

“This is going to be a very large savings and services should be the same as before, there should be no differences, it should be seamless,” Simmons said, as he thanked voters for supporting dissolution. “I hope in my tenure I leave the village in better hands.”

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