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Mr. Smith Goes to Schoharie

Written By Michael on 6/26/15 | 6/26/15

As part of the Governor’s budget legislation, this year’s New York State budget mandates that every municipality submit to the State Government a plan to consolidate with another municipality. The State has further mandated that if any Town or Village fails to submit such a plan to the State, the residents of that Town or Village shall be penalized.

This financial penalty is to be levied against residents regardless of whether consolidation will actually save money. As a result, this new mandate which the state, in its infinite wisdom, has universally placed upon all local governments is having a negative effect on the residents of municipalities which have either already consolidated services out of necessity or have been conservative enough to ensure that services are being provided at the lowest cost possible.

There is no doubt that many villages, town and cities across New York State may benefit financially from consolidating services. This is especially true in larger metropolitan areas where elected officials and department heads receive lavish salaries for providing a small amount of oversight to those that perform the necessary work required to keep our roads and infrastructure in good condition.

However, when this one size fits all mandate is applied to small rural communities, such as those in Schoharie County, the results are that our residents are being unfairly penalized by the State Government. Take for example the sharing of services and cooperation agreements that have already been created to save money by many Towns in Schoharie County. Blenheim, Fulton and Gilboa currently contract with the same Code Enforcement Officer so that the three Towns can split the costs of having a professional code enforcement officer; Blenheim and Middleburgh currently utilize one individual as the Tax Assessor for both municipalities; Blenheim, Fulton, Schoharie and Wright use the same person to serve as their animal control officer; and the list goes on. This sharing of services was voluntarily done years ago in an effort to cut operating costs. This is among the type of arrangement that state is mandating take place today. And if no plan is submitted to the State then the municipality fails to comply and the residents will be penalized.

Therefore, Towns which have done this voluntarily in prior years will be penalized for having already taken these steps. The State’s mandate is not tailored in a way that allows for past consolidation and sharing of services to be considered. As a result, the Towns and Villages which have consistently done the correct thing by reducing costs will be penalized for doing it before the State’s mandate went into effect. Meanwhile, those municipalities which have engaged in a waste of taxpayer’s money for decades will be rewarded because they can now take the steps to do what they should have done years ago.

While the above described sharing of services between municipalities is a possible way to reduce operating costs, the State’s mandate on consolidation is ultimately designed to achieve a more far reaching result in that it seeks to eliminate smaller municipalities and have the services they provide passed over to larger governments. This plan is based entirely on flawed logic.

The State has decided to mandate consolidation because they believe that larger governments are better and more efficient than smaller ones. Any reasonable person familiar with government in the least bit can realize that this is completely incorrect. In fact, the opposite is true. The smaller the government is, the more efficiently and cost effective it is to operate. Thus, smaller local governments can provide better and more particularized services to their residents at a lower cost than a large cumbersome government agency. A perfect example of this would be to review our highway department in the Town of Blenheim. We have a Highway Superintendent that not only performs the managerial and oversight work required for the Department, but also works on the roads every day. This one difference of having a working highway superintendent is the result of being a small department. Larger highway departments have a least one full time manager (and sometimes multiple levels of management). Thus in larger departments our tax dollars go to pay the salaries and benefits of these individuals, whereas the tax dollars of residents in smaller municipalities go directly to maintaining and repairing roads. This is one reason why we in the Town of Blenheim pay nearly the lowest dollar amount per mile to maintain and repair our roads. This same scenario is true across the board as a recent study on consolidation has revealed that it is actually more cost effective for larger Departments, such as the County Highway Department, to contract with smaller municipalities to plow and sand certain County Roads.

The fact is that the larger the government is, the more waste is has and the less efficient it is for its residents. As a result, we need to call upon the State to evaluate their mandate for consolidation before the State forces the few efficient governments we currently have into becoming inefficient- consequently driving our property taxes up once again.

Shawn Smith
Blenheim Town Supervisor
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1 comments:

peter shulman said...

Bravo Mr. Smith...
Your statments concerning Blenheim can be applied to Fulton and several other towns in Schoharie County. Lets hope our elected state officials and will react in favor.

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