The Observer-Dispatch had an interesting editorial Sunday on solving Utica's fiscal crisis: A three-pronged attack. Certain statements stand out (not necessarily in order of appearance):
There needs to be a city-wide — and a regional — spirit of cooperation as very difficult choices are made. And suburbanites who think that Utica’s fiscal woes don’t affect them are sorely mistaken. In the end, as the urban center goes, so goes the region. . . .
Metro areas that thrive do so because a collective mindset focuses on the hub and works cooperatively. Utica’s population has dwindled not only because people and business have left; much of what once was in the center city has sprawled into the suburbs.
. . . DiNapoli rightly pointed out that Utica’s suburban communities won’t be as attractive to newcomers if the urban center is weak.This blogger could not agree more with these statements. But then the editorial board misses the mark.
. . . the mayor . . . must continue to reach out to neighboring municipalities to establish inter-municipal agreements that can help cut the cost of government.The editorial board assumes that regional partnerships cut the cost of government. But do they really?
How well has regionalization of water and sewer services worked out? Certainly the costs of both services have skyrocketed. While some of the costs are attributable to new state and federal mandates, it cannot be denied that both systems now service more acreage while the population served has dwindled. That means fewer people must pay to maintain more pipes, water and sewage must be transported longer distances, and service vehicles must clock more miles to keep things running. Regionalization, thus, has increased costs -- for everyone. The key to understanding why this happens is population density. Services can be kept affordable when they are confined to densely populated areas. Extending services into less-dense areas increases costs. If the past is predictor of the future, Utica's entry into shared-services agreements will only accelerate sprawl and its own demise, taking the region down with it.
Though many are reluctant to tear down physical borders between our communities, we must abolish mental ones and embrace a more regional attitude.A "regional attitude" is not enough. As long as Greater Utica remains divided there are financial incentives for the suburbs to sprawl. The region's decline will not reverse until the physical borders actually come down and the people of the region start governing themselves as a region.