- See also: School bond and tax elections in New York
New York allows for elections involving bond issues and the state debt limit for cities under 120,000 in population. The New York Constitution has a protected debt limit for all school districts. In school districts that have referendums, they are limited to five percentum of the total valuation of property in the district. In other cities including Syracuse, Albany, and New York City, the debt limit varies from six to ten percentum of the district's total valuation of property.
Local representatives are seen as the best way for residents to influence their government. A trend has been growing, a dislike towards big government. In 2009, four towns in New York voted in favor of local citizen-initiated referendums to reduce the number of members on their boards from five members to three. Several councils have downsized voluntarily, without the need to put it to a vote. There is also increased talk of dissolution, villages are deciding they do not want to be any more. Downsizing is an increasing trend across the country, residents are realizing that local governments are spending beyond their means and this is one of their ways they are trying to change that trend. Though a study done showed that the tax payers savings when cutting a legislature is negligible, but the residents see it as a tangible way to do something. Although it does not accomplish a significant change, many see it as a step to bigger issues. Downsizing and letting the voters see their ability to change their government leads to bigger issues being tackled and adds momentum to the process.
At a recent conference of New York mayors, the Empowerment Act voted on in June 2009 and which went into effect March 2010, was discussed. It is an act that states that town voters must vote about dissolution before they know the costs associated with the process. The mayors were talked to about this act, how to educate their residents and make sure they know what they are signing. Since the law to dissolve a town was enacted in 1972, 19 villages have dissolved, leaving the maintenance, safety and law enforcement to nearby towns. Once a village is dissolved there can be up to 8 special districts created so that basic services are still provided to the people. The residents still pay taxes to the town and do not necessarily save on taxes. The Westbury mayor at the conference voiced his opinion that it would be better if governments became more efficient rather than being dissolved entirely. The conference aimed to educate mayors and help provide means to improve village government practices by educating them on this act and how it will effect them and their residents.
Due to the significant number of communities that have held votes on dissolution, criticisms have arisen in the state and local level, that it is now too easy to dissolve a community without proper study being done to establish the benefits or detriments to the process. Before, 33 percent of the residents needed to approved a petition for dissolution and now the number is just ten percent. Also, studies which usually took at least a year on the tax benefits and feasibility of dissolution no longer are a requirement by the governments. This means that people are voting to dissolve their communities without any real plan with how it will actually be done if approved. State lawmakers want this to be changed saying that it is too easy and in the long run will prove more harmful to communities than beneficial. But advocates of the measure say this is putting power into the local people's hands and state officials are not comfortable with that shift.
Local ballot measures in New York are allowed in municipalities, although one observer wrote in 1997 that "it is often nearly impossible to get measures on the local ballot."
A New York City judge has ruled that "voters can use the process to amend the City Charter, but not to express mere policy preferences."