The Journal Register (Medina, NY)

February 27, 2013

Villagers, employees weigh in on plans

By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register

Medina Journal-Register — MEDINA — Villagers and municipal employees said Monday that efforts to appoint a new executive official and pursue a dissolution plan have brought uncertainty and distrust to the village.

Monday’s meeting was the first to happen since the village received $50,000 in state funding to come up with a dissolution implementation plan. That led Mayor Andrew Meier and members of the village board to defend their intentions and ability to realize cost savings through the appointment of a village coordinator.

“Our intent is to hire (a coordinator) and proceed with the dissolution plan,” said Meier, who along with the entire village board voiced continued support for the proposals. “I think we can multi-task.”

The board approved advertising the village’s intention to fill the long-vacant role earlier this month, a move tied to the retirement of Village Clerk/Treasurer Peggy Crowley. Former village Trustee Owen Toale and other residents expressed doubts the new position’s salary, which Meier said would be around $70,000 to $80,000, could be covered by retirement reductions.

Meier said the projected savings after the full turnover of two retirement-based vacancies to lower-wage replacements and the new position would be about $15,000. Toale later noted that equals the village’s contributions to an earlier consolidation study and the new plan.

“Where’s the money coming from,” Toale asked. “I don’t see a great savings.”

Meier said the savings would be revealed in the village’s incoming budget work and an “open process” for plotting out a dissolution. But many residents will need to see more from their officials to be reassured about the plans.

Residents also questioned whether the process of finding and hiring the coordinator was transparent.

The advertisement for the position, which is viewable in full at www.tinyurl.com/villagecoordinator, asks candidates to send their resumes to Meier via email or the mayor’s post office box. That opens the selection process to questions of fairness and favoritism, residents said.

”How do we know how many (applications) come in and who applies,” village resident and 2012 village trustee candidate Mike Sidari said.

“It’s a trust issue,” village resident and Ridgeway Councilwoman Mary Woodruff added later.

Meier said he would disclose how many have applied — three people have emailed so far — but wasn’t sure if their identities could be revealed.

The questioning continued, but the information the village board had and the information it offered did not sate the crowd’s appetite. Village resident Lorraine Limina said she left Monday’s meeting unconvinced that the total repercussions of the village’s proposals have been explained to the public.

“I don’t think we’re getting the full truth,” said Limina, noting the issues raised in a forum last year with officials from the dissolved village of Seneca Falls have received enough attention. “I want to know how they can do it for less. I want them to show me exactly where you save money ... tell us the good and the bad, the whole truth.”

• Employees seek assurances, information

The other major source of discussion at Monday’s meeting came from municipal employees voicing concerns over their positions. Those jobs wouldn’t be guaranteed if a future vote to dissolve the village passes, as the village’s employment contracts do not continue if the village doesn’t exist.

Meier told the employees he understand the uncomfortable position they’re in, but his comments were poorly received by the firefighters in attendance.

”I know you’re worried about your jobs ... I would be too,” Meier said. “I’d be asking the same questions.”

Fire Chief Todd Zinkievich said that comment would do little to put his men at ease about their futures.

”What you said ... sends shockwaves to village employees,” Zinkievich said. “Do you know what that does to our workforce?  ... Tell us what’s going on.” 

Zinkievich called for village officials to meet with village employees at a separate meeting, a concept that Police Chief Jose Avila said should happen soon. Meier said such a gathering is being organized.

”It’s already a stressful job,” Zinkievich continued. “They’re nervous as hell. We need communication.”

Firefighter John Higgins said he came to Medina after being in a similarly uncertain situation seven years ago with the City of Batavia. He asked whether the village’s investment in training police officers, fire fighters and other municipal employees would be lost in a dissolution.

”For the pennies we’d save (on the tax rate) ... are you willing to throw that away,” Higgins asked.

Village officials stressed they want to keep the existing fire and emergency response capabilities even if the village dissolves.

”We have never supported getting rid of the fire department,” Meier said. “All those jobs need to be done.”

But while town residents who live outside the village would be disenfranchised in the dissolution vote, the decisions on positions, departments and employees would be up to the town government if the village dissolves.

”If the village votes (for a dissolution) there’s no village, no fire department, no police department,” Woodruff noted.