Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sprawling Pains . . .

It is only common sense that if your population is relatively stagnant, but you spread it over a larger area, it will cost more to provide it with services: the cost of urban sprawl. Whitestown is now finding this out in figuring out how it will afford to provide fire protection to increasingly far flung residents. Will the Town now stick its village residents (who already pay for their own protection) with the cost of providing services to the outlying areas, or will those in outlying areas bear the true cost of their own services? Who knows? It is anyone's guess what the exact response will be. However, if the past is a reliable predictor, whatever the response will probably mean more government and higher costs for everyone in the region.

The sprawl without growth that we see in the Greater Utica area is the product of piecemeal decision making made by different levels of government and different municipalities that are competing with each other instead of working together as a whole.

"Regionalization," as opposed to a true merger of governments, has contributed to this. For example, where development takes place is often a function of where water and sewer lines are available. Water lines have now been given to the Mohawk Valley Water Authority and sewage treatment and collecting lines have been given to the Part-County Sewer District. Both entities look upon themselves as mere service providers, but their decisions actually control where development takes place and the whole range of cause-and-effect responses that follow. In that sense , the water authority and sewer district are planning agencies for the entire region -- but they don't have that as their responsibility. Their decisions have encouraged development in outlying areas and caused a need for other services (such as fire protection, road maintenance, snowplowing, police protection, classrooms) in these other locations -- which services are the responsibility of "someone else" but wind up being paid for by "everyone else." Development in New Hartford has brought in tax revenue to New Hartford, but has resulted in sewage overflows to the Mohawk River that everyone in the Part County Sewer District will pay for.

Whitestown's problems of paying for fire protection will be repeated in other areas and for other services until we put an end to the fractured nature of our local government.

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