A referendum in which voters will choose whether to dissolve a Baldwin-based sanitation district that serves more than 50,000 people is set for Dec. 12.

The district, called Sanitary District 2, scheduled the referendum during a special meeting Friday in response to a 5,300-signature petition from area residents. If the dissolution drive succeeds, it will be the largest such action in New York under a state law enacted in 2009.

Justice Plummer Lott of the State Supreme Court Appellate Division in Brooklyn had halted the referendum pending a lower court case that questioned the petition's validity. But an appellate panel lifted the stay on Sept. 11.

The referendum will give residents a chance to strike a blow against high special district taxes, said Laura Mallay, executive director of Residents for Efficient Special Districts, which is campaigning for dissolution.

Critics of the district say it issues tax bills of more than $500 per year for the average home -- charges twice as high as they would be if the service were provided by Hempstead Town.

"I'm very excited that they set the date, and I'm very excited that the taxpayers will have the chance to vote to lower taxes," Mallay said.

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District officials say dissolving the district would kill jobs and hurt service.

A State Supreme Court case, in which district resident Patricia Cabram has called for a review of the petition, is due back in court in Mineola on Sept. 28.

Cabram, who said she has close friends who work for the district and fears for their jobs, claims she was duped into signing the petition. Her case still has a chance to derail the referendum, said Ken Gray, an attorney for the district.

"The hope is that the court will be able to make that determination in a timely fashion and determine prior to the date of the referendum whether an election should be held," Gray said.

The petitioning residents are calling for the end of the sanitation district under the New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, which was approved in 2009. It allows citizens to force a referendum by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the district's voters, or 5,000 voters, whichever is less.

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