A drive to dissolve a Baldwin-based sanitation district over its high taxes failed Wednesday night when residents voted to keep the district intact.

The margin was decisive: 4,597 voters opposed the referendum, 1,682 were in favor.

Opponents of Sanitary District 2 have said their tax bills -- more than $500 per year per home, on average -- would be lower if Hempstead Town provided the garbage service instead. But district backers said dissolution would cut jobs and hurt service.

The district serves about 55,000 people in Baldwin, Roosevelt, South Hempstead and parts of adjoining communities.

South Hempstead resident Laura Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts and a leader of the dissolution drive, said she was surprised by the results, and that residents' "fear of losing their jobs, and fear of the unknown contributed."

The drive faltered in part because too few residents thought the savings would be significant enough to justify such a major change in service, said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

But Levy said a bigger factor might have been unique to Sanitary District 2: its role in cleaning up the area after superstorm Sandy.

"It was seen as neighbor helping neighbor at a time they needed it most," he said, "at a time when a few extra dollars just didn't seem all that important."

At a community meeting hosted last week by Hempstead Town Councilman Anthony Santino, about 500 people who gathered at Baldwin Middle School to discuss the aftermath of Sandy applauded heartily when several residents lauded the district for its quick removal of storm-created debris.

Levy added that the failed referendum "doesn't help" other government dissolution drives under way statewide.

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The Baldwin dissolution would have been the largest of its kind under a state law approved three years ago. That law allows citizens to force a referendum by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the district's voters, or 5,000 voters, whichever is less.

Had the Baldwin referendum passed, the sanitation district would have had to craft a plan for a new service provider. Hempstead Town would have had to issue a vote of approval if it was tapped to provide service, town spokesman Mike Deery has said.

Mallay cited that as one of the flaws in the law: that a dissolution vote must occur before a plan for replacement service is crafted.

She said her group might campaign legislators to tweak the law.

"It was fear," she said.

Pete Arnold, a Baldwin firefighter, said he voted against dissolution to save jobs.

"It's very important that we keep people working," he said. "You have to help the community any way you can."

Members of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, which campaigned for dissolution, had said they expected voter frustration with high taxes to win out, saying residents of Sanitary District 2 pay nearly double the taxes of neighbors whose garbage is collected by the Town of Hempstead.

With Aisha Al-Muslim