“To be or not to be [incorporated]?”
That is our hamlet’s question.
Written by Alexandria Harvey*
“Corporate” comes from the Latin corpus, meaning body; one definition of “incorporate” is “having a bodily form.”
In fact, I like to think of this definition as referring to a spirit, a soul, a mind, or whatever your preferred word is for this phenomenon — perhaps consciousness. Lurking in an analysis of these terms likely lies some connection to the way we describe communities.
The term “hamlet” is often used to name an unincorporated area (although New York State does not provide a definition for “hamlet”), and that is what Elmont is. You may immediately ask the question posed in the title.
However, before we can determine whether or not incorporation is our next step, we must explore why it isn’t our current status. An unequivocal, definite answer might prove impossible, but possible reasons can offer suggestions.
New incorporations barely occur in New York State anymore. According to the Department of State, Division of Local Government Services, only four communities have become incorporated in the entire state this century.
The same list, detailing incorporation back to 1940, shows only one such change for Nassau County, which was in 1962’s Atlantic Beach. In fact, significantly more villages have dissolved in recent years than have manifested.
Alan G. Hevesi (2006), in “Outdated Municipal Structures: Cities, Towns, and Villages – 18th Century Designations for 21st Century Communities,” writes, “Because of the great changes that have taken place, it is highly doubtful that—if New York State was to start from scratch—anything even close to our current municipal structure would emerge” (p. 4).
Separation from a concept makes it difficult to understand; a lack of understanding makes a concept difficult to desire.
Even the definition of the concept is skewed. In New York State, incorporation itself means a village, yet we frequently hear the misnomer “incorporated village.” Once we have handled that hurdle, we can begin to understand what incorporation entails.
The New York State Division of Local Government Services provides a concise definition in the Local Government Handbook (2011): “In New York State, the village is a general purpose municipal corporation formed voluntarily by the residents of an area in one or more towns to provide themselves with municipal services” (p.67).
What are municipal services?
The term is broad and encompasses services provided by a local government for which the residents pay tax. For example, an incorporated community may provide emergency services, sanitation services, and a court. Taking a look at the Incorporated Village of Valley Stream’s and the Incorporated Village of Floral Park’s websites reveals a variety of services that Elmont lacks.
The aforementioned Local Government Handbook outlines what to do to obtain incorporation, so the steps are there for those eager individuals who want them. Part of the barrier to incorporation may be that the term seems antiquated, especially in a world of fluid definitions and boundaries and rapidly changing circumstances. Also, debate tends to arise over the raising of taxes associated with incorporation.
Keep in mind that incorporation does not always mean increased taxes. However, if we cannot even have a conversation about incorporation, then we cannot have a conversation about its potential implications for Elmont.
The other issue is a lack of connectedness in the community. Remember, the above definition states that a village is an entity “formed voluntarily by the residents.”
Floral Park’s site boasts information about the Floral Park Recreation Center and Four Village Studio, two spaces for the community members to perform loyalty to their neighborhood. Valley Stream’s site provides a space for veterans and offers information on the area’s emergency alert and notification system.
When I visit Elmont’s website, whether as a result or incorporation or not, I want to see the same. I hope to see it. The “incorporate” part of “incorporation”— the spirit — can come alive in different forms, but it needs streamlined concentration. It isn’t going to appear in the body of the community by itself; we need to put it there. A major reason why we don’t have incorporation likely stems from the lack of a united effort.
I see the passion, drive, and dedication to the community emulated by so many, but we have to work together. To work together, we need to know each other, and we need to develop an exchange of ideas in actual spaces, both physical and virtual.
Remember, incorporation refers to the taking of a bodily form. Even if the concept itself is ethereal, it must come together in a body.
Community space is essential. I crave (and I doubt I am the lone wanderer with this insatiable appetite) a community center, neighborhood events and activities, sit-down eateries, quaint pubs, clean parks, a large supermarket, and the other amenities that residents of nearby places are afforded.
Shared space allows us areas to mingle with business owners and residents, and these places also provide us with a sense of pride in the community. Bringing people together allows ideas to formulate.
Incorporation requires connectedness, but more importantly, unity requires connectedness. Unity allows us to discuss incorporation but also, again, more importantly, further ways to improve our neighborhood.
Alexandria Harvey is a pseudonym.*
Stay tuned for Part Two of our brand-new original series, “The Elephants in Elmont,” with Contributing Writer and Elmont resident Alexandria Harvey.
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