MARILLA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The town supervisors of Wales and Marilla said Thursday they would like to conduct a preliminary assessment of what it would take to be annexed into Wyoming County. Both Erie County towns currently sit on the border.
“We feel we fit better (in Wyoming County) because we are more rural and agricultural,” said Marilla Town Supervisor Earl Gingerich Jr.
The announcement drew a rebuke from Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who tweeted secession would be an “ill-thought out action.”
“For more than 200 years, the people of Erie County have been united in our effort to create a better community for all,” Poloncarz said in a statement. “Erie County always works better when we work together, and my administration will always work to find ways to unite our community rather than split it apart.”
Gingerich has been a frequent critic of county policy as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly the county’s indoor mask mandate. He disapproves of Poloncarz’s use of emergency executive power and says that is a major role in this exploration.
“It’s come to the forefront due to these executive orders and the, we believe, heavy handed tactics of the county government from the county executive and his management team,” the Marilla supervisor said.
Wales Town Supervisor Tim Howard agreed with Gingerich that his town’s residents may have a more powerful voice in Wyoming County government.
“I very much recognize the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t,” Howard said.
Howard was previously elected to four full terms as Erie County Sheriff. However he says this move has nothing to do with the sheriff’s office or his former role.
“In fact people around Wales know that I joked for years as I telegraphed that I was going to leave the sheriff’s office and run for town supervisor that this is one of the things that I was going to consider doing,” Howard said.
An entire article of New York State’s General Municipal Law deal with the annexation of towns. Under that law, the process can be sparked by a petition or by a resolution from the governing boards of the local governments involved. The law even leaves room for the courts to get involved later on if a board doesn’t approve the annexation.
“Once we get the preliminary study done and it looks favorable, then we will move forward on the petition process,” Gingerich said.
Such a move would require fiscal gymnastics. In 2021, Erie County kicked a combined $1,568,698.35 in sales tax revenue to the Towns of Marilla and Wales, figures from Comptroller Kevin Hardwick’s office show. The county sent another $3,129,192.56 to the Iroquois Central School District.
Gingerich said that was something they were looking into. Poloncarz believes secession would have severe financial and service impacts for residents of the towns.
“These range from budget-busting losses of revenue that necessitate large town property tax increases, dramatically increased county property taxes that would have to be paid to neighboring counties, to greatly decreased or even eliminated provision of services, potentially including libraries, law enforcement, and other services,” the county executive said.
Wyoming County does not provide any county sales tax revenue to towns or school districts. Warsaw Town Supervisor Rebecca Ryan, who chairs the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors, called annexation an “interesting concept”, and noted Marilla and Wales were welcome to approach the board.
Gingerich claimed other Erie County towns were interested in the idea of annexation into the other counties as well. However he wouldn’t identify them. Grand Island is thought to be one of those towns. However Town Supervisor John Whitney shot down the idea during a phone conversation with News 4.
Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter and anchor who started working at WIVB in 2017. A Lancaster native, he came to Buffalo after working at stations in Rochester and Watertown. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.