Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Master Disaster 4: Reaching Out to Neighboring Municipalities . . .

. . . with the Dollars of Utica Residents and Businesses????

In the draft Utica Master Plan's "Housing and Neighborhood Development" section, "Goal 10" is to "Provide the highest level of public safety for the residents of Utica."  . . . . But to fulfill an underlying "objective" of "Efficiently deliver public safety resources to the neighborhoods of Utica," the Master Plan proposes to:
"Perform a shared services consolidation study to understand how emergency services, particularly fire and EMS, could be shared with neighboring communities." (p.35)
How does sharing services with neighboring communities efficiently deliver public safety resources to the neighborhoods of Utica? Why is delivery of services to neighboring communities even part of the UTICA Master Plan?

The "Infrastructure and Waterfront Development" section sounds a similar theme:
"GOAL 5: Adopt shared services consolidation agreements for road and sewer maintenance with neighboring communities  . . ."
"Perform a shared services consolidation study to understand how road and sewer maintenance services could be shared with neighboring communities . . ."  . . .
"Bring City of Utica and neighboring municipalities together to discuss collaboration and cooperation to determine the best ways to serve the area."  (Page 88).
Whose Master Plan is this, anyway? Utica's? or the "Mohawk Valley's"? 

Long-time readers of this Blog understand the relationship between the cost of services and population density: that municipal services are delivered efficiently only when the population is concentrated into a compact area . . . and that the per capita cost of services should increase the further people are spaced from each other and the further they are from the population center.

A consolidation will save suburban jurisdictions money because they will be come part of a larger organization. But what about Utica residents?

If Utica services are spread into outlying areas, overall costs for the services will increase at a greater rate than the added number of new customers would justify because the new customers will be located further away and spaced further apart (i.e., they are more costly to serve).  Utica residents, thus, could expect their taxes and various user fees to increase to subsidize services to suburban locations. This subsidy will make it easier for people and businesses to leave the City of Utica for suburban locations. That would reduce population density within Utica and increase costs to Utica residents for OTHER services that are not "shared." Utica will continue to become smaller and poorer.  

These "shared services" ideas make sense for persons in the suburbs, but they are nonsense for Uticans.  Utica residents will wind up giving and giving to help neighboring communities (like they already have been with water and sewer charges), but get zilch in return.

Who came up with these ideas? What is their agenda?


Anonymous said...

Strike - Shared services should make sense even for City of Utica residents. A large portion of the City of Utica budget is allocated towards police/fire/public safety. The residents of this city can not afford such high costs. Either break the public service unions, the collective bargaining process, and the rich benefit packages, and lay off employees - or expand outward. The City of Utica has one of the best police and fire departments in this region. Why not take over Yorkville, NYM, NH and others? Oneida County has more fire trucks than the City of Chicago.

If consolidation and shared services are not the option, then cut the police, fire, and public safety budget lines by 1/3....and that's being generous - shoot for 1/2 - the taxpayers of Utica can not afford increased tax hikes, fines, or fees of any kind.

Mrs. Mecomber said...

This is actually humorous! Maybe Utica is simply trying to be "Greater Utica" already? Being "greater" is more than swallowing up the resources of the surrounding suburbs... Sharing IS caring! ;)

Greens and Beans said...

The premise of Goal #5of the Master plan is not out of line. To purchase ". . . a shared services consolidation study to understand how emergency services, particularly fire and EMS, could be shared with neighboring communities"(p.35) is not out of the question. But Utica will have to muster the political willpower to follow the recommendations of the study. Utica has shown us that it is very good at purchasing studies that they have never follow up upon. Most of Utica’s purchased studies are used as window dressing to bolster the reelection of corrupt elected politicians. But Utica must realize that their political picnic must come to a halt. It is time for real action towards making city government operate as efficiently as any profit seeking business does.

Utica needs to alter its way of managing government if it is to survive the twenty-first century. Master Plan Goal #5 could be exactly what would encourage manufacturing, retail businesses and families to relocate to Utica. However, other municipalities must want to purchase Utica’s services and not vice versa. And, as with any intergovernmental agreement, the devil is in the details. All contracts should be crafted in such a fashion as to provide the taxpayers with a “win/win” situation. The shared services that the City of Utica would provide with other governments should be structured so that all of the effected taxpayers would realize a monetary benefit. Utica’s Courts, Fire, Police, Ambulance, Accounting, Engineering, Codes and DPW services must reflect a property tax discount for Utica taxpayers. In return, those peripheral governments that utilize Utica’s municipal shared services must provide a cost benefit for their taxpayers as well. But for Goal #5 to be successful, Utica will have to clean up its act in terms of operating its various urban services by focusing on departmental efficiency.

Utica will also need to actively promote themselves to all neighboring governments. A recent Observer Dispatch newspaper article reported that one neighboring village may soon consider the option to dissolve and become a less expensive entity as a hamlet. To facilitate this goal, City would do well to prepare a presentation to show the efficiency and cost effectiveness of Utica’s shared services. But service subscriber governments will want to sign on to a proven successful and efficient service provider, rather than signing on to a dismal inefficient and wasteful service provider.

The Master Plan can provide a good outline, but it must be set as a template for future survival as well as its path to urban growth and success.

Strikeslip said...

Thanks, everyone for the comments.

We've already pursued "shared services" with the water authority and the sewer district. Since everyone within the service areas of these respective entities pays the SAME rates, Utica residents are paying for more than they need to.

There seems to be an underlying assumption that consolidation automatically means lower rates for everyone because costs are shared over more people. This is false. Here is how I rationalize it:

There is a hypothetical municipal service that costs $500/week per square mile. We have a hypothetical city of one square mile with 1,000 inhabitants. That means that city residents must each pay $0.50/week to maintain the service. Now consider that our hypothetical city has four hypothetical suburbs, each covering one square mile and each having 250 inhabitants. The cost of the same municipal service in the suburbs works out to $2.00/week per person. Now let's "share" our hypothetical service. We have 5 square miles (1 city + 4 suburban) times $500/square mile = $2,500 for the total cost of the service. Divide this by the 2,000 inhabitants of the consolidated area (1,000 city + 1,000 suburban) = $1.25/week per person. Through "sharing" our hypothetical service, Suburban residents will have a 37.5% reduction in their cost for the service. City residents, however, will experience a 150% increase in the cost of their services because it would have gone from $0.50 to $1.25.

Sharing the hypothetical service is a bad deal for city residents because they, in effect, are subsidizing the lower costs in the suburbs.

I find that this proposal has no place in the Utica Master Plan because, if any presumption is to be made, it is that sharing services will be MORE costly for city residents rather than less.

If suburban municipalities want to consolidate with Utica to save themselves costs, let them perform the studies and make offers that make it worthwhile for Utica residents to join in. Otherwise, Utica is just behaving foolishly. . . . as it already has with the sewer district and the water authority.

Anonymous said...

Strike -
How do you resolve the conflict between your opinion here and all those times you've told your audience that we don't need those little towns and villages around Utica and Rome and they should all be consolidated into a single great metropolis government? Is it the idea of "shared services by contract among equals" instead of "we're in charge of everything" that you find objectionable?

Strikeslip said...

Good Point -- Here's how I resolve the apparent conflict --

If there is a Merger of governments, then city residents(the ones paying the increased costs for sharing) will get a benefit from any increase in suburban tax base that the sharing produces. It also works in the opposite direction. If a regional sharing draws people out of the core and into the fringes, everyone (including the suburban residents) would bear the consequences of a declining core.

Merger would force us to think as a region about infrastructure expansions. It also would prevent one community from receiving an advantage at the cost of another.

Strikeslip said...

Regarding "Is it the idea of "shared services by contract among equals" instead of "we're in charge of everything" that you find objectionable?" --

In a nutshell, yes. The We that should be in charge would be the voters of Greater Utica. If we continue to go the route of "contracts among equals" every jurisdiction will continue to be free to plan and do things independently of the others, imposing consequences on their neighbors. Growth in the fringe in New Hartford (attractive to town government types but not necessarily residents) results in decay at the core in Utica. As separate jurisdictions New Hartford residents will have to bear the cost for infrastructure extensions while Utica residents bear the cost of maintaining underutilized infrastructure. Lose lose for the residents of both (although Town government might perceive it as a win). If the decisions, costs and benefits are shared via one government, the residents of the region will have an effective means of planning their future.

They will gain the ability to control the sprawl that has already driven our tax rates so high.