Sunday, June 07, 2009

Consolidation . . . From a Downstate Perspective

The OD Says: Bill to make mergers easier deserves OK. But is this the bill that we really need?

Readers of this blog know that I advocate the creation of "The Municipality of Greater Utica" to consist of the City of Utica; Towns of New Hartford, Whitestown, Marcy, and Deerfield; Villages of Yorkville, New York Mills, Whitesboro, New Hartford, and Oriskany; the Mohawk Valley Water Authority; the Oneida County Part-County Sewer District; and various other "Utica-centric" authorities; plus portions of other jurisdictions that are served by either the Water Authority or the Sewer District.

While cutting costs is the selling point for some, for me the true issue is giving the People who would live in this Municipality meaningful control over what local government accomplishes in their everyday life.

We have all witnessed the ravages of "sprawl." I think most people would prefer to have "city" activities in the city and "suburban" activities in the suburbs. Bulldozing apple orchards for business parks while large portions of downtown are vacant makes no sense. However our "Balkanzed" local governments make that happen: people in New Hartford have no say over how Utica develops, and vice-versa. Our Water Authority extending lines ever outward just to grow its business while creating a water shortage that will make it difficult to reindustrialize old sites also makes no sense -- but it happens because selling water was divorced from other municipal responsibilities. Ditto for the Part-County Sewer District, only with the District, control has been handed over to people half of whom live outside the District. Water and Sewer are our biggest pieces of shared infrastructure. They determine where development occurs. Unless We the People govern them as one municipal entity, they will control us, playing one part of us against the other, and they will eat us alive with a half-billion in expenses.

Andrew Cuomo certainly deserves a round of applause for bringing the matter of streamling consolidation forward. The idea of giving the People the right to initiate the process is especially intriguing. (Where is the "Initiative, Referendum and Recall" we were promised so long ago like they have in California?) Would Mr. Cuomo's Bill permit "Greater Utica" to emerge?

Download the bill from the Attorney General's website.

The proposed law is all about consolidating "local government entities." The key is in the definition of "Local Government Entity."

13. "Local government entity" or "entity" shall mean a town, village,
district, special improvement district or other improvement district,
including, but not limited to, special districts created pursuant to
articles eleven, twelve, twelve-A or thirteen of the town law, library
districts, and other districts created by law; provided, however, that a
local government entity shall not include school districts, city
districts or special purpose districts created by counties under county
law. (emphasis supplied).

There you have it . . . no help whatsoever with the type of consolidation that we really need here.

I've previously blogged about Upstate suffering because policies are implemented from a Downstate perspective. My suspicion is that this bill was written from a Downstate perspective, where the Towns are all highly populated and various services have already been extended throughout. Upstate is different. Many Towns have sparsely populated areas -- areas where population density is too low to support services. Consolidation in such places, if not carefully done, could require village residents to subsidize services to outlying areas, increasing taxes, fees and rates, and result in more sprawl. Alternatively, it could also result in a loss of services within villages, if the combined town-village population density is too low to support services everywhere.

The bill should probably be passed because anything that gives more power to the People is a good thing in New York. It is also a good start on consolidation . . . but it does not go far enough to meet our own local needs.


Greens and Beans said...

The towns and villages that are located within Whitestown, Westmoreland, Kirkland and New Hartford are all good examples where consolidation of police, fire, highway, engineering and accounting services would save millions of tax dollars. However, if this consolidation fosters urban sprawl it would cost more than it would save. The Town of New Hartford is one example of a town with a diversification of geographical area and population composition. New Hartford is one example of a town government that has mistakenly transferred sewer improvement funds to balance its general budget. The fact of the matter is that not all of New Hartford’s residents contribute to this sewer improvement fund. This transfer benefitted some of those residents who did not contribute into the sewer improvement portion of the budget. This may be a simple example of poor fiscal management, but the fact of the matter is that many of the towns located in the upstate areas are not totally urbanized like their counterpart towns located in the downstate New York City metropolitan area. Overextending our upstate resources, such as water and sewer utilities, will overtax the urban areas they were originally intended to serve. But with good responsible governmental consolidation, budget funds should be controlled by a separate oversight body (elected by the voters) in an effort to ward off the practice of comingling dedicated budget monies. If consolidation is structured properly and it tempers the urban sprawl factor, it would benefit upstate communities and help alleviate costly budget shortfalls.

Mrs. Mecomber said...

The day my mailing address becomes "Greater Utica," I'm moving to Cazenovia or Oneida... :-p

Strikeslip said...

Hi Mrs M!

If you are on the water or sewer system, then "Greater Utica" should be in your future. If not, then a separate existence may be appropriate. Pick up the June "Phoenix" to read why this makes sense.