Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Consolidation" vs Merger ...

Today we have another editorial in the OD singing the consolidation song …

“We have been unwilling to make the tough decisions necessary to make this area grow. This is most evident in our failure to embrace consolidation. . . .

“Perhaps this is most evident in the failure to consolidate our economic development efforts. Originally many people believed that Oneida County EDGE would replace the many smaller economic development agencies that existed at the time, but this encountered much resistance and EDGE became an “umbrella” agency linking these smaller groups.

What the writer refuses to recognize is that there is a strong perception that EDGE primarly works for Rome’s benefit rather than the region as a whole. Mayor Julian has complained about it. Herkimer County has complained about it. It has to be a strong perception when Sen. Hillary Clinton, who doesn’t normally concern herself with local politics, picked up on it. Other “consolidation” programs are perceived similarly.

In this region, “consolidation” is perceived as taking from one community to give to another, with the decisions of who wins and who loses left to an elite group of insiders. For that reason, consolidation a/k/a “regionalization” will never be embraced, and SHOULD NOT BE.

Fault Lines has previously blogged about this issue on several occasions. How regionalization/consolidation in the form of the Part-County Sewer District benefits New Hartford at the expense of surrounding municipalities is discussed here and here. How regionalization of the water system/auditorium/Utica Youth Bureau benefitted suburban areas at the expense of Utica is discussed here. Fault Lines discussed “consolidation” in an historical context, contrasted “metro-government” with regionalization, and explained the difference between “sprawl” and “growth“.

“Consolidation” should be strictly limited to those things where one community will not sense it is being taken advantage of to benefit another: eg., centralized purchasing, perhaps.

Before trying to consolidate further, elimination of overlap by different levels of government should be studied first. By “elimination of overlap” we mean situations such as Utica and the Villages where their residents pay for their local police departments and also have to pay for the County Sheriff to provide the same service to outlying areas. It’s even worse in the Villages where Town police departments also have to be paid for (i.e., villagers pay for 3 levels of local police protection (Village, Town, County), but actually only receive protection from one: the village). In this way, the true cost of providing services to particular locations will become known. Obviously, persons living in outlying areas would incur much higher costs for services because there would be fewer people to pay for them. Perhaps with this realization, the process of real, meaningful and wanted consolidation may begin.

The ultimate answer is not consolidation of services across municipal boundaries, but MERGER of municipalities and ELIMINATION of the boundaries. If people in different localities are expected to share in the costs of services, they should also share in the benefits, and the decisionmaking. This can only happen with merger.

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