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What South Nyack Can Learn From BREXIT

by Rob Panzera

The multi-faceted decision of dissolving South Nyack and how it’s shaking out in public is striking in its similarity to the Brexit vote in 2016. I witnessed the Brexit vote firsthand visiting in-laws. And the conversations, anxiety, and pressure felt in 2016 are similar to what I’m seeing in South Nyack now in terms of their underpinnings, reasoning, and potential consequences. We could find ourselves in a similar no-win situation with only a series of bad choices, because as the population of the United Kingdom found out, once the vote is done, there is no going back.

I’m always wary when complex, multifaceted decisions are lauded as being black and white. The dissolution of South Nyack is such a decision. The dissolution vote was brought about by a very low bar of 10% of signatures of eligible village voters with a strong voice on social media. For South Nyack, the main underpinnings are:

  1. Fiscal savings for property owners in the form of taxes
  2. A referendum against the current ruling trustees and their record over the past 5 or more years
  3. Fear of new village residents and the changes they would make to the land-use and planning of the community.

This parallels Brexit:

  1. Fiscal savings which could be directed to the National Health Service
  2. A referendum against the David Cameron’s coalition government
  3. Fear of immigrants entering Britain during a period of high transit from Africa and the Middle East.

But do we have to dissolve in this manner? The voters of South Nyack are being rushed to make a decision based on a complex fiscal issue, through social media haranguing and bullying. We are being sold a bill of goods by a small minority of voters, who claim to have done all the fiscal research and who also claim that they know what’s best for the village in terms of dissolution. This voting minority had even pushed back against an outside consultant providing any kind of objective research or data. In actuality, we need more data and more consulting.

Concerning Fiscal Savings

The CGR report laid out something in the range of 6-7% for the median household, which for some in our community seems like nothing, and for others, might be the difference between keeping their home or not. Any savings is appreciated by all, but the push back is that the savings do not justify the reduction in services. There really is no way of knowing what that outcome will be, because whether we are under the umbrella of South Nyack or Orangetown, we still have to pay for services, and although we’ll be able to spread the cost of those services across a greater base in Orangetown, my experience is that taxes rarely go down, and when they do, restructuring in the future makes them a moot point. Similar to Brexit, once plans and decisions are nearly finalized, the projected accounting of savings will look very different than the actual accounting.

Even before the vote of dissolution was placed, it was obvious that a village like South Nyack had no chance of fiscal survival. You only have to look at the books of all local villages to see that, and other Rockland County riverfront villages should take this possible dissolution as a warning. Dissolution is welcomed and led by the State of New York (see The New N.Y. Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act passed in 2010), which finds villages a non-economical way of doing business. That’s why the bar for signatures for dissolution is so low and the vote moves at such a rapid pace. The property tax cap all but makes it unstoppable.

South Nyack Village Hall. Sketch by ©Bill Batson.

South Nyack As Hamlet:
To Be Or Not to Be?

On Dec 17, voters in South Nyack will weigh in on whether their village should be dissolved and become an unincorporated hamlet of Orangetown. Advocates say it will reduce property taxes; opponents say residents will lose control of local zoning. The citizen’s initiative which led to this referendum was sparked by concerns about the sale of Nyack College.

Read more: CGR’s S. Nyack Dissolution Report: 10 Important Takeaways.

Have a point of view about the Dec 17 vote you would like to share? Submit your opinion articles to

Concerning a Referendum on the Current Administration

The rhetoric I’ve seen against the current mayor and the administration is really disturbing to witness on social media. The trustees are our neighbors, and even if you don’t like the decisions they made or believe they will make, they do mainly volunteer work in what they think are the village’s best interests. Using a dissolution vote as a referendum on the current administration is really just cutting off your nose to spite your face. It reeks of a power grab, similar to Brexit, when a small group of very vocal people bully the current administration and the voters into making a rush decision that affects everyone whether the consequences will be negative or not.

Concerning New Residents Changing the Town

Dissolving into Orangetown is taking an offensive position in what’s at this point a totally conjectured future lawsuit, meaning it’s advancing a front and drawing a line in the sand. As the current national rhetoric has shown us, this is no different than building a wall and then daring people to climb over it.

Building a metaphorical wall based on the perception that an influx of soon to be residents will change the make-up of the town and the ruling body is straight up bigotry. Similar to Brexit, it’s based on the fear of new residents and how they will integrate and tap into vital services. It’s smart to plan for the future based on empirical evidence of the past, but at what expense? You can point to past events in other villages concerning one group, but that does not predict future actions.

Nyack CollegeIt’s almost ironic that a small but vocal minority has bullied us into the fast-paced vote under the guise of stopping another group from living in our village in a manner that fits in with their beliefs. It would lay credence to the positions of the vocal minority pushing for the dissolution to place as much energy into reaching out to the new owner of the Nyack College property. Isn’t the reason we live in South Nyack or any part of Nyack that we value inclusivity?

If it does come to litigation, the projected (but not verified) settlement could cost the village between a few hundred thousand to a few million dollars. Or it might not. Litigation is a strange and complex thing and settlements from litigation pan out in many ways over many years, especially with the inclusion of liability insurance. Worst case scenario, if there is litigation and South Nyack loses, each household may pay a few hundred dollars more over many years to cover the cost. But you’d have to pay that anyway as an Orangetown resident. Will Orangetown litigate in a manner that suits the needs of South Nyack? That much is conjecture.

Vote “No” Now. But Plan for Thoughtful Dissolution in the Future

We should never be forced to vote based on fear.
We should never be forced to vote based on bullying.
We should never be forced to vote before all the facts and myriad options of resolution are laid out.

As mentioned earlier, dissolution is inevitable based on fiscal numbers, but how we dissolve is malleable and can be performed in a well thought out and organized manner where all village stakeholders have a say. Instead of dissolving and being forced on a fast track plan to present to Orangetown, we can approach Orangetown with some preliminary plans and hash them out. We can also investigate and choose other options, such as dissolving and forming a new village or combining with another village.

We have the power to take control of this process and stop a small minority of vocal people from pushing us into a corner. It’s important to note that The Empowerment Act’s 4-year ban on petitions after a “No” vote does not stop the village government from developing a dissolution plan and holding a vote at any time. Let’s vote “No” on December 17 and then work with the Village Trustees on a sensible dissolution plan. We can work on this as community with hired experts to guide us to find solutions. The ones who want us to vote “Yes” are actually trying to hobble us at our knees.

Whichever way the vote goes, I don’t think either option is the end of the world, nor a panacea, but I do know we can do better as a community to not force each other’s hand.

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Hey, by the way, who knows if Orangetown really wants us? Has anyone asked? I guess they have no choice or voice in the matter either.

Robert Panzera lives in South Nyack, NY. 

See also:

Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.

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