Trimming, Sharing, Consolidating, To Create Efficient, Cost-Effective Government
Before the NYS Senate adjourned its recent, turbulent session, they did manage to pass some landmark legislation, including the Breastfeeding Mothers' Bill of Rights. [We kid you not. May sound silly, but it is important. The dissemination of information, the education of young parents, and the protection of the rights of both mother and child, are essential to the well-being and healthy development of our most precious natural resource -- our children.]
On other key issues -- including property tax relief, in the forefront of the minds of every New Yorker -- the Senate was, apparently, not as motivated to act (call it "taxtose intolerance"). Property tax reform was the topic of many a conversation, and the occasional -- if not perennial -- debate, but push come to shove, coup or no coup, easing the property tax burden got no more than lip service, and not a single breast to suckle on, so to speak.
And so, another legislative year behind us, and New Yorkers are left to fend for themselves to create smaller government, eliminate waste, consolidate services, and, potentially, lower that bottom line on the property tax bill.
Fortunately, the legislature did give us a mechanism to at least begin the process, this through the recently enacted New York Government Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act.
Our allies in the battle to streamline government, reduce costs, and lower property taxes at the Center for Governmental Research report on a plethora of initiatives, from Albion to Seneca Falls, where steps are being taken to regain control over local government for the benefit of the people that government was intended to serve.
Here's the overview, as provided on the Center for Governmental Research website:
For many local governments – villages, towns, cities, counties and school districts – CGR has identified options for increasing efficiency, effectiveness and equity via service sharing or consolidation. Some of the issues that prompt communities to seek our help include rising property taxes, higher costs for key services (e.g., police, water), little-to-no growth in the population base, and/or a stagnant economy. For sample projects, click here.
City & Town of Batavia NY Consolidation Plan Released
After receiving a NYS grant to study consolidation and engaging CGR as study consultant, a joint City/Town Committee spent nearly a year investigating and assessing options for the future. In July 2009 the Committee delivered its final report – a plan for consolidation with a proposed timetable and recommended approach – to the City Council and Town Board. The plan calls for the new consolidated government to be a city, and recommends elected officials approve a joint charter commission and take steps to pursue a public vote on the new charter in November 2011.
Voters in Johnson City NY to Vote on Dissolving the Village
On November 3, 2009, voters in the Village of Johnson City NY will decide whether to dissolve the Village and consolidate with the Town of Union. A study committee has worked for 18 months to develop a plan, with staff support provided by CGR. The Dissolution Report & Plan was released to the public in July and a public hearing will be held August 10, 2009 at 7PM at the Johnson City High School auditorium.
With Consolidation, There Could Be Big Savings for Village of Seneca Falls Taxpayers
The leaders of the Village and Town of Seneca Falls initially engaged CGR to help them achieve a major goal: reducing the cost of government to help stimulate economic growth in the community. In 2008, CGR found the community would potentially save $393,000 in costs by dissolving the Village and consolidating government operations with the Town. In addition, potential AIM incentive funding from NYS would bring in new revenue of $495,000. After factoring in other revenue shifts, including revenue the Town receives from a landfill, CGR estimated property taxes for a Village resident owning a home with a $100,000 taxable assessed value could be cut $975 a year if the Village dissolves and consolidates with the Town. Residents of the Town outside Village currently pay no property taxes but would pay about $375 a year on an equivalent home. The Village board voted to pursue developing a Dissolution Study and in early 2009 CGR was engaged to conduct the follow-up study.
Consolidation Study for the Village of Albion, Town of Albion & Town of Gaines
Four-fifths of the Village of Albion is in the Town of Albion, and one fifth is in the Town of Gaines. A CGR study found limited opportunity for the three municipalities to generate significant cost savings through shared service agreements. However, if the Village and Town of Albion consolidate, overall property tax savings would be at least 18%, and if all 3 consolidate, overall property tax savings would be at least 22%. Consolidation savings would come from cost reductions due to efficiencies and substantial new state consolidation incentive funds. In late 2008 a joint oversight committee recommended to elected leaders that they pursue dissolution of the village, thereby reducing the number of governments from three to two.
Village of Lake Placid / Town of North Elba Shared Services Study
CGR completed a study in 2008 for the Village of Lake Placid and the Town of North Elba that evaluated opportunities to expand shared services between the village and town to reduce costs and share them more equitably. The study focused primarily on parks, public works and administrative services, but also addressed options for police and courts. The study found that the village and town already have some unique and long-standing cost-sharing arrangements that could provide the template for expanding cost sharing between the highway, water and sewer departments.
Service Sharing/Consolidation Options Can Lead to More Vibrant Future
The Village and Town of Cobleskill NY asked CGR to identify service sharing/consolidation options for their communities. CGR found some options, such as sharing planning, court or code enforcement functions, could be achieved with little change to existing municipal structures. The 2008 report suggests that, in time, a single entity (achieved either by dissolving the Village or becoming a city) will provide the framework for creating a government that is more cost effective and efficient, and has access to more revenues to offset the local property tax burden on taxpayers. In January 2009, the Village board voted to pursue development of a dissolution plan.
NY Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness Study
The Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness examined ways to strengthen and streamline local government in NY. Prior to making a final report to the NY governor in 2008, the Commission engaged CGR to analyze local governments (city and town) in the Oneonta, Norwich and Cortland areas and evaluate opportunities to share services and/or consolidate. The report highlights 3 themes: 1) there is no need for the state to require a “one-size-fits-all” solution; 2) shared services agreements or consolidations must be perceived as being equitable in order to succeed over time; and 3) to consolidate entire municipal entities, creative solutions are needed in order to overcome challenges of outdated borders, imbedded procedures, legal constraints and historical differences
The big news here is not the "been there" studies or "done that" reports, but rather, actual forays into eliminating ineffective and often duplicated levels of government.
In Johnson City, just outside of Binghamton, for instance, residents will vote this fall on a referendum to dissolve the very village in which they live, consolidating services with the Town of Union.
How do you like that?
Long Islanders, armed with the very same weapons at the disposal of the folks in Lake Placid, need to pick up the baton and run with it, with much the same zeal and dedication with which they have fostered the progression of other initiatives vital to the island's future, such as the Lighthouse project.
We cannot, we dare not, delay in advancing the causes of both government efficiency and property tax relief, either by waiting for others to do it for us (they won't), or, in taking no action, hoping against hope that property taxes will simply lower themselves (they won't).
This is the time for community activists, organizers, leaders, and advocates to step to the fore, demanding consolidation and sharing plans from their local governments (or what all too often pass as local governments, such as the so-called special taxing districts), and, should no workable and realistic plans be forthcoming, to start the ball rolling through community awareness and awakening, drafting and carrying petitions door-to-door, placing referenda on ballots in villages, hamlets, towns, and special districts all across Long Island.
The message is clear: Property taxes are too high and local government is too big. The means for self-help is available: Resident-driven dissolution and/or consolidation. The time for us to get moving is now!