Local Politics: Ignore it at Your Own Risk – Part 2

From epic tales of of West Coast corruption in Part 1 of this topic, we now move to a discussion much closer to my home:  local politics in my current hometown of Rotterdam, NY.

For more than a year, much of the local political discussion in Rotterdam centered on ambulance services and taxation.  It’s a complicated and controversial topic; one that impacts every Rotterdam homeowner and resident.

Currently, Rotterdam residents are served by the not-for-profit Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services (REMS).  The creation of a new tax district is necessary to keep REMS operating.

The new tax district would impose an additional 10 cents on every $1,000 of assessed value of properties in Rotterdam.  For me, that would mean paying an additional $10 to $15 in property taxes annually.  (I’ll let you do the math to figure out the assessed value of my home.)

On the other hand, the town could decline to create the tax district and instead choose to contract with a for-profit ambulance service.  Most likely, that would be Mohawk Ambulance Service.  With this choice, the town would also save $120,000 annually that it currently provides to support REMS.

The Town Board passed a resolution to allow property owners to vote on whether or not to create the tax district.  If the tax district referendum passed, REMS would become the ambulance service.  The vote was scheduled to be held at Town Hall on December 14th.

Seemingly, just as the November election lawn signs came down, they were replaced by signs in favor or against the new tax district.

It was a difficult decision for me.  About 18 months ago REMS transported me to the hospital following a sudden, and very scary, asthma attack. They were fantastic.  However, in 2006 Mohawk provided services for my wife, my son, and me following a nasty car accident.  Also quite professional.

So, the deciding point moved to the tax district.  Clearly the new taxes would not be very hefty.  However, any time I hear about the creation of a new tax, a new fee, or a new tax district I find myself quite concerned.

Ultimately, I voted “no” to the district.

So did a majority of Rotterdam property owners.  The tax district was voted down.

Turnout in this small suburb was impressive with almost 4,000 votes cast. Perhaps most important, it was a vote in stark contrast to the politics taking place in Bell, CA.  Just check out the following quote from a Times Union story about the outcome:

The referendum, which would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home $20 a year, went down by a vote of 2,472 to 1,386. The polling was marked by a continuous stream of people descending on Town Hall, a sight that Schenectady County Board of Elections Republican Commissioner Art Brassard called rare for a local election.

To me, it was comforting to see Ordinary Citizens taking an active role in local politics.

However, that does not mean that we can quit watching.  Of concern to me are the actions of the Town Board.  Communication from the Town Board, especially a letter mailed to property owners, was confusing.  Also, according to another recent Times Union story, the board may be trying to keep REMS in place, perhaps ignoring the referendum results.

I’m watching and participating.  So are other Ordinary Citizens.  I hope you will do the same in your community!

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