Ellery Town Clerk Rebecca Haines wants people to know about sections of state Gov. David Paterson's proposed budget she thinks is taking away some of their rights.
Mrs. Haines is president of the New York State Town Clerks Association and has found out about a portion of the governor's budget that will give a town board the power to convert the town clerk, highway superintendent and tax receiver positions from elected to appointed positions.
She says currently the law requires a town board seeking to change an elective office to submit the proposal for vote by the general electorate.
Matt Anderson, spokesman for the division of budget, said, however, the proposed change gives town officials the right to change the positions to appointed with a permissive referendum, rather than a mandatory one, as is currently the requirement.
''Citizens still have that right (to vote on changing the positions to appointed),'' he said.
It would just not be mandatory under the proposal.
Assemblyman Bill Parment said the change would require a petition to be circulated to get the change on the ballot so the public can vote on changing a post from elected to appointed.
''The public would still retain a significant voice in this process,'' Anderson said.
He said the proposed change came about due to a recommendation from the Local Government Efficiency and Competitive Commission, of which Stan Lundine was the chairman. Anderson said the governor's office is not forcing localities, but, rather providing them an option or tool to facilitate mergers and consolidations, which, he said, saves money. Anderson said it is difficult for municipalities to merge if one has an elected clerk and another an appointed clerk.
The proposed change, he said, is a way to provide municipalities a tool to help future mergers that ''drive down taxes.'' He said smaller operations tend to be more expensive due to two nearby municipalities providing duplicative services. The proposal, he said, provides for ''greater economies of scale.'' Anderson said the proposal is one part of the state's broader agenda to make government more efficient.
''The proposed language will have a devastating impact on local governments and result in the direct disenfranchisement of the voters of the state of New York,'' a news release from the town clerks association states, however.
''This is absolutely wrong and would lead to taking this decision out of the hands of the general populace through the electoral process and putting it into the hands of a few,'' the news release states.
''The right to vote is one of our most treasured gifts,'' said Mrs. Haines, adding, ''anytime that right is placed in jeopardy we should fight to keep it, as our forefathers fought to get it for us, and so many have given so much in defense of it.''
''It has nothing to do with saving money,'' she said, adding if the offices are changed to appointed ones, she thinks taxpayers will be burdened more as elected officials do not accrue sick or vacation time. If they lose an election, she said, elected officers are not eligible for unemployment insurance. She said, however, that would all change if the elected positions become appointed ones, which could make those holding the posts eligible for more benefits.
Besides, she said, the positions are to be independent ones that are part of checks and balances within towns. If clerks are appointed, she said, a clerk answers to the supervisor and board, looking to be reappointed, rather than remaining independent.
''They are supposed to serve the taxpayers,'' she said, voicing concerns that some small town clerks may also serve as comptrollers auditing books, which could be a conflict for them if they need reappointment by a town official.
''It gives internal controls,'' she said about clerks remaining independent rather than serving at the appointment of elected officials..
''We would be playing politics. The last thing we need to play in New York state or Chautauqua County is more politics,'' she said.
Her main objection, however, is that the law would take away voters' rights. Mrs. Haines also wants to know why the legislation does not stand on its own, but, rather is part of the general government budget. If it stands on its own, she said, there would be a forum where it could be discussed. She, along with other association members, have called senators and assembly people, along with sending letters to voice their concerns in hopes the sections can be removed from the budget bill.
The proposal will go before the state legislature as part of ongoing budget deliberations.
''I strongly believe that it's always better for the people to choose,'' said state Sen. Catharine Young. ''If someone's not doing (their) job, the voters have a way to send a message,'' she said about how they can cast ballots for the person. Sen. Young said the proposal would ''take away voters' choice.''
Sen. Young said she also does not see how allowing town boards to decide whether citizens should vote on appointing or electing the positions is a cost-savings measure.
''It's a good idea to share services and consolidate,'' she said, adding, however, that could be done by requiring each municipality to have elected officials instead of some being elected and others appointed.
''I prefer the voters make the choice as opposed to anybody else,'' said Assemblyman Joe Giglio.