HIGHLAND FALLS – A petition submitted this month to dissolve the 115-year-old village of Highland Falls has been deemed valid, paving the way for a mandatory referendum by village voters this year.
Village Clerk Regina Taylor confirmed on Monday that the citizens’ petition filed with her office on July 2 met all legal requirements under state law to force the issue onto the ballot. That means the Village Board, which is set to meet next on July 19, must schedule a referendum within 30 days and hold the vote within 60 to 90 days.
The vote will allow Highland Falls voters to determine whether to surrender their municipality and government and be governed and policed by the Town of Highlands. Leaders of a group that gathered 405 petition signatures said their main interests were eliminating needless duplication of government services and stabilizing municipal finances.
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Katharine Dagaev and Joe DeWitt, two leaders of the petition effort, said Monday that they had just learned of the petition’s validation and started the next phase of their campaign: gathering and disseminating information about how the dissolution would affect both the town and village residents.
Dagaev said the group would likely distribute flyers and schedule a town hall-style session at which people could speak both for and against the proposal. She hopes to enlist an emergency services official and representative of New York’s Department of State to talk about potential consequences.
Dagaev and DeWitt said they hope to correct a misconception that Highlands homeowners and business outside Highland Falls would have to share the village’s accumulated bond debt if it’s dissolved. They said the payments for debts now exceeding $8 million would be assigned strictly to Highland Falls property owners even if the village no longer exists.
“Fort Montgomery residents would not assume our debt,” Dagaev said.
DeWitt also wanted to allay fears that Highland Falls would lose its longtime identity by shedding its municipal status and government. The Highland Falls name and ZIP code would still exist but would refer to an unincorporated hamlet rather than a village, much like Fort Montgomery.
“The village doesn’t disappear,” he said. “Highland Falls becomes a hamlet, that’s all.”
Roughly 5,500 people live in Highland Falls and Fort Montgomery, which make up all of the town of Highland’s population outside of West Point.
Highland Falls Mayor Joe D’Onofrio didn’t return a call for comment on the proposal on Monday.
More than 20 New York villages have been dissolved through referendums since 2011, according to state records. The village of South Nyack in Rockland County is set to dissolve and be governed by the town of Orangetown within the next couple years after a vote of 508-292 in support in December.