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Chaumont officials raise doubts over proposed dissolution, but agree to allow public to decide

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"CHAUMONT — The village board Tuesday night endorsed the Chaumont dissolution plan despite doubts over whether Lyme town officials would follow through with the proposal.

In a 3-1 vote — with Deputy Mayor James Price against and Trustee Dori-Ann Froelich absent — village officials agreed it would be best to have the public choose whether merging with the surrounding town of Lyme is in the best interest of the community.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at the municipal building, Route 12, and the village board would have a few weeks to tweak the plan based on feedback before formally passing a resolution to bring the issue to a Nov. 6 public referendum.

“I don’t trust the town one bit,” said Mr. Price when asked why he voted against the plan.

Village Mayor Valerie E. Rust, although in favor of the proposed plan, shared his concerns.

“I don’t feel comfortable with the current town board,” she said. “I don’t think Chaumont residents would have as strong of a voice if the village dissolves.”

Although there are some obvious advantages of merging the two municipalities and combining resources, officials fear that there may have been topics overlooked during the year-long study and they doubt there would be substantial savings or big tax reductions for Chaumont residents.

“I’m not in favor,” said William C. Borden, a village trustee and chairman of the Chaumont Dissolution Committee.

CGR in its study report estimates a $252, or 49 percent, tax reduction for a Chaumont homeowner with a property assessed at $50,000 — assuming the village and town budgets stayed the same, and taking into account state tax credits and “special district” taxes for lighting, garbage and fire protection under the new town of Lyme.

“It’s not going to save you much as a village resident, and you’ll see your taxes go up if you’re a town resident,” he said.

And although the merger is estimated to increase town-outside-of-Chaumont taxes by 8 percent — or 20 percent without state incentives — only registered voters of Chaumont get a say in the matter.

Chaumont has an estimated population of 625 residents — roughly 29 percent of the overall town of Lyme population — and about 300 registered voters.

Center for Governmental Research Inc., a Rochester nonprofit company hired by the village for the dissolution study, estimates an annual net savings of $27,940 upon consolidation — assuming that the town of Lyme receives $30,757 annually through the state’s Citizen Empowerment Tax Credit program.

“I think everything looks neat and tidy on paper,” Mayor Rust said, but added that things often do not go according to plan.

If approved by village voters in November, the state-mandated dissolution process will take a year or so to complete, and Chaumont would become a hamlet, like Three Mile Bay, also in the town of Lyme, as of Jan. 1, 2014.

The dissolution study report and plan will be made available at the municipal offices, Lyme Free Library on Route 12E, on the town of Lyme’s website, www.townoflyme.com, and CGR’s website, www.cgr.org/chaumont.

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