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SHUT DOWN: Lisbon Residents Overwhelmingly Vote Against Merger

As far as Lisbon residents are concerned, merger with Sussex isn't going to happen any time soon.

The Town of Lisbon has spoken, and there will with the Village of Sussex any time soon.

During Tuesday’s primary election, Lisbon residents had a special question on the back of their ballots reading, "If the terms of the consolidation were reasonable, would you be 'for' or 'against' the consolidation of Lisbon and Sussex into a new municipality?"

Lisbon spoke loud and clear, and the answer is, “against.” Almost 80 percent of residents who made it to the polls voted against the consolidation, totaling just less than 2,300 votes. About 600 residents voted in favor of the merger.

Although this is a nonbinding referendum, the Lisbon Town Board is taking the vote seriously. Now that residents have overwhelmingly spoken out against the consolidation effort both in person and at the polls, they wouldn’t explore a merger any further.

The news is a defeat for officials like Town Supervisor Joe Osterman who said he was interested in, at the very least, exploring the opportunity further. Other proponents of the merger included Town Chairman Matthew Gehrke, County Executive Dan Vrakas and County Sheriff Dan Trawicki.

"I am very comfortable with the outcome, and now I am eager to get back to business as usual for the first time in a while."

However, although he spoke in favor of looking into the new municipality, Osterman wrote in the comments below that he is "comfortable" with the vote. 

"I do not see this as a defeat, as stated in the article, but rather as a diffinative direction for the future of Lisbon," Osterman wrote. "I was very much hoping that the vote would come back with a good voter turn out, and either very strong for or against the consolidation. The worst thing that could have happened would have been an evenly split vote.

"The community is very much united in saying that we want to stay the way we are," Osterman continued. "Had the vote come back in favor of looking into a merger, I would have tried my best with the rest of the board to see if we could have made it work. I am very comfortable with the outcome, and now I am eager to get back to business as usual for the first time in a while. Thank you to all who voted and attended the meetings."

Osterman and the other Lisbon town supervisors will now have to regroup and decide how to maintain village-like services while maintaining a low tax rate and shrinking tax base. One of the solutions calls for Lisbon to reapply to become a Village, a process it failed to accomplish in the past. 

Editor's Note: This article was updated at 9:27 a.m. on Wednesday with comments from Osterman. 

Luke August 15, 2012 at 04:45 AM
Sussex needs to make a better argument than the "better services" one. The guaranteed increase of $200+ dollars per year in property taxes and the personal threat of having to one day spend tens of thousands of dollars because they decided to run water and sewer lines along my property aren't worth the "services."
Joseph Osterman August 15, 2012 at 06:29 AM
I do not see this as a defeat as stated in the article but rather as a diffinative direction for the future of Lisbon. I was very much hopeing that the vote would come back with a good voter turn out and either very strong for or against the consolidation. The worst thing that could have happened would have been an evenly split vote. The community is very much united in saying that we want to stay the way we are. Had the vote come back in favor of looking into a merger I would have tried my best with the rest of the board to see if we could have made it work. I am very comfortable with the outcome and now I am eager to get back to business as usual for the first time in awhile, Thank you to all who voted and attended the meetings. Joseph Osterman
Bill K. August 15, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Luke What argument are you talking about there was never an argument from the village. The village never proposed anything to the town in all of this consolidation talk from what I have heard. The entire consolidation argument was dreamed up by the town board with no input from Sussex. The results and amount of yesterdays votes in Lisbon clearly shows that Lisbon residents are more interested in state and national issues and are completely uneducated and unaware of what is going on in their own town. It is sad to see that a majority of Lisbon voters such as yourself have fallen victim to the fear mongering, propaganda and miseducation put out by a small group of community mouthpieces in the town. Thank god we are not going to consolidate with the town I may get a supposed $100 dollar reduction in my taxes (OH NO $100) in the village but that would soon be wiped out by the slamming of my taxes to pay for Lisbons complete lack of maintenance of everything in the town. I will keep my low stable Sussex tax rate where my board maintains what we have and provides great services. Good luck Lisbon see you in the funny papers.
Pete August 15, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Obviously the age old resentment toward Sussex is alive and well in Lisbon. I have lived in the village for almost 40 years and the absolute distain Lisbon residents have toward Sussex has not changed one bit. The people have spoken, drop the whole idea and Lisbon fend for themselves, they asked for it!
Andy Ambrosius (Editor) August 15, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Thank you so much for leaving this comment here! I hope you don't mind, but I incorporated it into the article so more people can read how you feel about the vote. :)
Phil Knoebel August 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Joseph, You are right on point
Flytyer August 15, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Please note, I will attempt to not be sarcastic or call people names. There is nothing wrong with the people of Sussex. We go to the same schools, worship in the same churches, shop in the same stores. Historically Sussex and Lisbon have always had an uneasy relationship, and I mean forever. I was told along time ago that Sussex would never consolidate with Lisbon because Lisbon had a higher voting population. With the population boom in the 60's and 70's Sussex eventually became larger than the Town. In my opinion Sussex would like to annex any adjacent vacant property in Lisbon so they can develope it as they see fit. Industrial parks, low income apartments, subdivisions which all have an impact on schools, sewers, water, and things that I would call quality of life issues. I don't think there a "hate" in the town of Lisbon for people from Sussex like was stated in the Sussex Sun, but I do think there is a level of distrust in the politicians in both the Town and the Village.
Resident August 15, 2012 at 09:02 PM
The residents of the Town of Lisbon have spoken (as shown in the strong objection to consolidating into a city) -- people did not move to Lisbon because they wanted city-like services but because they wanted to live in a rural area with larger lots and lower taxes? The bottom line is residents of Town of Lisbon do not want to reside in a city -- regardless of the municipality consolidation would have been with.
Arnold Jung August 15, 2012 at 10:05 PM
I was highly disappointed to see the final vote put forward by my fellow Lisbonites on the day where a change to a positive future of both communities could have started. I was hoping that with the strong conservative position that the town usually aligns themselves with we could have gone in a responsible fiscal direction with our governments. Instead selfishness and an isolationist mentality captured the day. As I read some of the comments above it is clear that this community is conservative until it meets their own front door.
Arnold Jung August 15, 2012 at 10:06 PM
Folks the village of Sussex has no intention to drive sewer and water to your doorstep look at the geography of the town it is almost fiscally impossible to get these services to most areas. The village does not intend to burden us with their debt, their debt is completely sustainable within their own tax structure. The village does not intend to increase our services they only wish to not provide services beyond their own needs. Currently they provide services whenever we cannot fill our own needs the village steps in like a good neighbor and helps out. They like me want both communities to equally maintain our community library. I look out my front window and see my road falling apart, my road poorly plowed by part time drivers in the winter, the abandoning of our library, our understaffed police, our highly overstaffed fire department, a town staff that is deteriorating and a town board that is reactive in their actions instead of proactive. The town board will need to raise our taxes soon to meet the basic demands of our town whether you like it or not. It is too bad we will need to do this on our own now without help. Truly a disappointing day.
Resident August 16, 2012 at 02:54 AM
Once consolidated into a new city (or village), the new city council/village board would have complete power to require sewer and water, curb and gutter, smaller lots, higher density, more industry/commercial centers -- it would not be Sussex versus Lisbon -- residents would be at the mercy of a new government, new land use planning, new zoning, etc. The debt of both communities would be the combined debt of the new municipality -- not Sussex debt versus Lisbon debt. Lisbon has nearly twice as many miles of roads as Sussex. How would consolidating provide more money for road repairs? The library isn't being abandoned -- the elected officials just need to cooperate, like the town/village departments (non-elected folks) do. Part-time plow drivers? Roads are plowed by the Public Works Department staff. Overstaffed fire department? You want more police coverage but less fire protection? Hope you don't experience a house fire. I'm not sure the town staff is deteriorating but rather understaffed -- maybe because the town chairman was certain a consolidation would occur in the next 18 months. Yes, taxes will likely go up in the future -- much like everything else -- but that doesn't mean the town will go under or be unable to provide basic services.
Arnold Jung August 16, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Complete power? A new government would be an elected group by both municipalities not just Sussex politicians in charge. I would hope a newly elected board would have all our interests in mind. Right now our zoning is under control of the county if anything we would have more control of what we wanted to do with our land if consolidation occurred. From what I have heard Sussex has no intention of requiring any of the improvements you mentioned. You speak like the town has no debt itself maybe the village does not want our unmanaged debt. Lisbon may have more roads but the villages roads are maintained far better than ours, go into the village and drive the roads that are in control of the village they are remarkable compared to ours. The village does not want our poorly maintained roads. The library will be abandoned by our board, with the vote on Tuesday they will have no choice but to abandon it to maintain their current budget. We do have part time plow drivers look into it you will be surprised. Half our police calls at night are covered by Sussex at no cost to us. Whens the last time we had an emergency situation that needed the size of fire department we have. We have something called mutual aid to save me in times of great need. Yes my taxes will go up but on an unnatural curve due to mismanagement not rising costs and my services will go down.
Resident August 16, 2012 at 01:24 PM
Unfortunately, some folks seem misinformed. If consolidated, Sussex and Lisbon would cease to exist. There would be no Sussex forcing this or Lisbon being subject to that. All residents of the newly formed city would be subject to all of the debt of the former municipalities, would be subject to newly created ordinances, new zoning (though still subject to the same regulations mandated by the state, which the county is the liasion to for towns). As far as fire safety, yes, mutual aid is available, but let's hope you never need to rely on it (especially if that mutual aid requires fire hydrants).
Flytyer August 16, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Arnold, I respect what you say, but at the risk of being a cynic I have never thought that any politician has anyone's interests in mind except their's. My favorite definition of people involved in politics is from John Gierach (flyfishing author and environmentalist) " A politician is a person who argues both sides so he is assured of being on the winning side". The one thing that I do cherish between a Town and a Village is that I actually have a say on budgets by my vote, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it is one of the last places that I can actually have direct participation if I choose to ?
Luke August 16, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Bill, In a previous article, one of the Village officials was reported verbatim saying that the Town should consider the merger because of future increases in the cost of services. That was the "argument" to which I was referring.
M C August 17, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Having lived in the area for only seven years, I find it difficult to understand some of the attitudes between the two communities. From what I have read Lisbon is facing some serious difficulties down the road. It seems appropriate to me that they would explore merging with Sussex, especially given the entirely odd layout of Lisbon on all sides of Sussex. The vote was only to explore it further; seems the sensible thing to do to me.
garden August 19, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Pete, I am a newer resident of the Town of Lisbon, about 10 years or so. I voted against the possible merger for one reason, and one reason only: DEBT. Our two communities are about equal in size (10,000 residents or so), yet Sussex DEBT is twice that of the Town of Lisbon. I will be in favor of merger discussion, as I believe we ALL will see a reduction in our taxes, but, ONLY after the Sussex DEBT is equal to that of Lisbon. Why would I want to take-on past Sussex DEBT?
Arnold Jung August 20, 2012 at 04:25 PM
You are correct that there are a lot of misinformed individuals in town and you are right that if a consolidation could have happened Sussex and Lisbon in their current forms would cease to exist. As far as the debt, our town board could have required a separate management structure in a combined budget to ensure there was equity between the communities in the paying of past debt. There could have been a requirement to expand the villages current zoning to include new zoning areas that mirror our current zoning. Stipulations could have been entered that zoning only changes when development is about to occur for that particular property. From what I understand that is how the village handles agricultural development now. In response to the mutual aid issue you seem to imply that a combined government and fire department would completely abandon the residents of the town. A new government would be required to protect all citizens town or village equally. I see the towns fire pumpers and the villages fire engines working together seamlessly all the time, how would this not continue to work with a combined government. A new government I hope would keep our pumper trucks and accompanying equipment to ensure those areas without municipal water would be safe from fire. All this could have been negotiated instead selfish attitudes will put our town in a corner that we will not be able to recover from without massive tax increases.

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