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Borrello votes against changes to village creation rules

State Sen. George Borrello fears legislation making it harder to create new villages has religious undertones.

The legislation originally passed the state Legislature during last year’s session, with chapter amendments required as a condition of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s decision to sign it into law. Hochul also signed legislation (S.7537) that creates a Village Incorporation Commission that would make decisions about whether a village should be created.

The changes include raising the number of residents needed for village incorporation from 500 to 1,500, eliminating a provision that allowed a certain percentage of landowners to create a village and requires an analysis on the financial sustainability, taxation issues involved with creation of a village and whether this village can survive. The original bill (S.7538) passed in the 2023 legislative session) required 2,000 residents to sign a petition to form a village, but the number was reduced as part of negotiations between legislators and Hochul prior to her signing the bill.

Some Republicans argued that the process takes the decision to create villages away from the public and concentrates it in the hands of consultants who would study the financial viability of the new village. Concerns were also raised about the number of residents who are needed to create a village. Only five Chautauqua County villages have 2,000 residents, according to the 2020 Census.

“We’re not creating a new floor,” said James Skoufis, D-Cornwall and Senate sponsor of the proposal. “We’re raising the floor, the number of people; but there’s always been a floor, a number, in place. I suppose the logical conclusion of that argument is there should be no floor — one person could create a village, perhaps, is a suggestion. Five hundred people 150 years ago is very different than 500 people in the year 2023, regardless of outmigration or not. In 1870, when this law was originally enacted, there were 4.5 million people in New York state. Five hundred people is very different in 1870 than it is in 2024 in a state of 19 million people. Yes, it’s high time we updated this absolutely antiquated law.”

Critics have said Skoufis’ proposal is directed at the proposed village of Seven Springs in Orange County. The proposed village would be primarily a Hasidic Jewish community on about 2 square miles of land near Kiryas Joel, another Hasidic community. The work to create Seven Springs began when a group of residents was upset they weren’t included in an expansion of Kiryas Joel, which originally began with a couple of hundred residents and grew to tens of thousands, according to the Albany Times Union. The Times Union reported in late December that organizers of Seven Springs plan to file a lawsuit seeking to overturn both S.7537 and S.7538.

Borrello’s concern was different from many of his fellow Republicans and focused on what he termed the state’s actions making things more difficult for religious communities.

“I’ve heard in this debate that we are modernizing things from 100 years ago,” Borrello said. “If you look at the most recent history of the incorporation of new villages, it’s almost exclusively those who are wishing to organize into a Jewish community.

“So the appearance is that after 100 years all of a sudden recently we’re going to change some things, raise the bar a little bit, make it a little bit more difficult. That may or may not be the intention, but it is certainly the appearance. Because at the same time you’ve been attacking those same folks who want their own religious schools, private schools. We’ve attacked them, made it more difficult. Again, what’s the appearance of that? So we can argue all we want that this is just a change that we need all of a sudden after 100 years or we can look at the facts that the most recent villages incorporated are those organized under the Jewish faith. That’s the appearance we’re giving here making this change now in a particular area where we’ve had those villages incorporated so people could live together with a common goal, common interests. That to me is disturbing,”

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