Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Village of Brockport Dissolution: My view from here

A Main Street shop owner sweeps up the sidewalk near her storefront on a spring afternoon.
Photo by Ove Overmyer, ©2016
Guest Essay by Ove Overmyer

Brockport, NY-- As Election Day approaches May 24, I have some thoughts I want to share with you. First of all, I was born many years ago at Lakeside Memorial Hospital in Brockport, NY. I am from a very large family and I'm sure most residents who have lived in the area will recognize the family name. I attended High School there and I still have plenty of family and friends who I care deeply about who still call this historic Victorian canal town home.

I mention this only because I want to squash any impression that I don’t have a horse in this race— in fact, I do and so do you no matter where you call home. Anytime there is a threat to one’s quality of life, folks need to speak up and take a stand for each other. This is because it’s not just a fight for Brockport residents to keep their village whole-- this is about something much bigger. It’s a threat and attack on the existence of government itself. Government is a positive social and civil contract that attempts to improve people's lives and hold everyone accountable. Government gets a bad rap and I'm here to defend it.

By virtue of full disclosure, I must also state that I work for a union who represents the DPW workers who are employed by the Village of Brockport. That being said, this makes my resolve all the more meaningful.

I personally consider putting a vote to village dissolution an act that threatens our personal safety and risks our financial security— and it will inevitably diminish everyone’s way of life. While I know some people think local governments are dysfunctional, I respectfully disagree. After careful consideration of the facts and circumstances surrounding this particular village dissolution vote in Brockport, I’m pretty sure you will come to same conclusion that I did. The residents of the Village of Brockport, a high-profile SUNY college town at that, will have a better quality of life and a more efficient delivery of services if they vote NO on May 24.  

Dissolution is devoid of any civic meaning

If you believe the dissolution argument, the conservative and libertarian arguments, then you probably believe Americans are cast as victims of a vast corrupt system. As the narrative goes, we are just taxpayers bearing up under the obligation to pay into federal, state and local coffers. Some are stoic in the face of the inevitability of “death and taxes,” while others burn with resentment like the old Tea Party folks.

Here is the problem. What is missing from this picture is any sense of a larger meaning in the act of paying taxes in the first place. Most other things that require effort and sacrifice-- family, service, charity, and volunteerism-- have virtuous or at least redeeming value associated with them. That meaning helps us face life’s collective challenges with a larger sense of purpose that makes these acts worth the investment.

When we lose sight of this, taxes and government are seen as merely depriving us of our individual property. If, on the other hand, we see ourselves as government stewards of common good, as citizen managers of public systems and structures that secure the village, city, state and country we live in, then taxes are our contribution to something bigger than our individual selves.

The stories we hear about government dissolution and paying less tax reflect a chronic disconnection from our role as citizens; they are devoid of any civic meaning. The real meaning of local government and taxes pays for the things that underpin our public life and connect us to one another through our villages, our communities, our states and our country. The fact remains, no one can predict what will happen if the village dissolves. Your taxes might even go up. Every village dissolution process is different—and yields unintended consequences every time. To compare other jurisdictions that have dissolved to what might happen in Brockport is like comparing apples to oranges.

Three words motivate the dissolution movement: power, profit and greed.

First of all, there are many national right-wing think tanks that provide tool kits and playbooks for dissolutionists to use as reference. The fundamental question is, does such an extreme "outsider" ideology have a place in determining your future when it comes to delivering vital village public services? Only you the voter can answer that question. 

It should be important for everyone to know what motivates the few families who are pushing this dissolution vote in Brockport— and someone needs to openly shed a light on what’s really going on here. It’s no secret the dissolutionists inordinately own most of the real estate rental property in the village and want to stick their bony finger in the eye of village government. After all, village officials are the only stop-gap measure in preserving your property values and the historic landmarks that dot each village street. 

The landlords selfishly think eliminating village government, code enforcement and public safety officers will remove all barriers yielding an increase in their business profit margin— all at your expense. This is really about greed folks—plain and simple. Is this the way a civil community responds to such critical issues of the day? Voting to dissolve their village? I think not. As it is, this landlord group continues to badmouth those who politely disagree with them and thumb their nose at their neighbors while at the same time, they decimate the housing stock in one of New York State’s most historically vibrant communities. It would be a travesty if voters allow them to get away with it.

On Election Day, please remember our local village government keeps you safe like nobody else can. Your government educates your children. Your government provides you and your community vital services you cannot do on your own.

Your government also creates ladders of opportunity so citizens can create their own personalized version of the American Dream. I know firsthand how extraordinary local government can be— I worked in a public library system for 18 years and witnessed how it can transform lives.

We all need to be telling a new and meaningful story about the positive aspects of government and taxes that celebrate the concrete opportunity it offers we the people. Please vote NO on May 24. 

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