The Third Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined a survey submitted to the public by the village concerning the police department was not a prohibited advisory referendum. The survey was deemed to be merely a sampling of public opinion. An advisory referendum, in contrast, requires a vote during an election. The Third Department noted that the petitioners, residents of the village, had common law taxpayer standing to bring the Article 78/declaratory judgment action because there was no other way to address the issue:
… [A] review of the case law dealing with an “advisory referendum” establishes that each such case involves registered voters going to a polling place during a municipal election and casting a ballot on the proposed question … . In light of this, it is our view that the proscription against an “advisory referendum” is limited to a situation where a question that is advisory in nature is placed on the ballot for a vote by the electorate.
Here, in contrast, the Board simply seeks to obtain a sampling of public sentiment regarding police services in the Village before the Board makes a decision to alter current police services. In the event that the Board decides to abolish the police department, such a local law would then be mandated to be placed on the ballot as a proposition to be voted on by the electorate at an upcoming election … . We reject petitioners’ contention that the surveys at issue here will somehow allow the Board to “avoid governmental responsibility and shift the burden of decision [regarding police services] to a public poll” … . Matter of Woodburn v Village of Owego, 2017 NY Slip Op 04513, 3rd Dept 6-8-17
MUNICIPAL LAW (AN OPINION SURVEY WAS PROPERLY CIRCULATED BY THE VILLAGE (CONCERNING THE POLICE DEPARTMENT), THE SURVEY WAS NOT A PROHIBITED ADVISORY REFERENDUM)/SURVEY (MUNICIPAL LAW, AN OPINION SURVEY WAS PROPERLY CIRCULATED BY THE VILLAGE (CONCERNING THE POLICE DEPARTMENT), THE SURVEY WAS NOT A PROHIBITED ADVISORY REFERENDUM)/ADVISORY REFERENDUM (MUNICIPAL LAW, AN OPINION SURVEY WAS PROPERLY CIRCULATED BY THE VILLAGE (CONCERNING THE POLICE DEPARTMENT), THE SURVEY WAS NOT A PROHIBITED ADVISORY REFERENDUM)