Monday, December 24, 2007

Cobleskill Town and Village Should Go Their Separate Ways

With many small towns abuzz with talk of “consolidation” and “sharing services” it may seem counter-intuitive to propose that Cobleskill’s Town and Village move further apart, but here’s why I think it would be better that way. No, I’m not proposing that we physically pick up the Village of Cobleskill and move it up to the Town of Carlisle. What I’m proposing is that the Village officially remove itself from the Town’s political jurisdiction by incorporating itself as the City of Cobleskill.

The Town and Village simply have too many irreconcilable differences to make consolidation a wise move for the Village. The Village needs to focus on reviving its downtown business district. The Town simply wants to use Village water and sewer services to develop more sprawl. The Village has a well-developed public infrastructure that it has invested in for decades (water, sewer, etc.). To simply allow the Town of Cobleskill to have the benefit of that investment is unfair to Village taxpayers and ratepayers. What’s more, it seems like the Village has a lot more to bring to the table here: a municipal water system, a sewer system and a police department for starters. What does the Town of Cobleskill have to “share” in exchange for these services?

The Times-Journal has sought to frame the issue in terms of eliminating duplication of services. In an editorial, the Times-Journal asks: “does Cobleskill need two offices, two sets of clerks, two planning boards, two heads of government and separate Town and Village boards to get daily duties accomplished”? The Times-Journal makes it sound like we’re talking about some vast legion of entrenched overpaid bureaucrats. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Planning and Zoning Boards are staffed by volunteers and cost taxpayers nothing. Therefore, reducing the number of planning boards and ZBAs from two to one would have a taxpayers savings of ZERO dollars! The Village Mayor’s office pays an $8,000 dollar a year salary. Haven’t you ever heard the saying: two heads are better than one? For that price, we could throw in a few more! Clerks make a little more, but perform a wide variety of functions. Cobleskill’s Village clerk is much more intimately aware of the Village’s processes and operations and can be a valuable asset, why get rid of that? Eliminate the Village boards (planning, zoning and Trustees) and you are ceding an incredible amount of community control to the Town of Cobleskill. Why? So greedy developers like the Galasso’s can pick the bones of the Village?

Why is it that most of the debate seems to focus the spotlight on the Village government as unnecessary when it is the Village that has made the investments to establish and maintain the services that the Town now wants access to? I’m not saying there should be no sharing of services, but let’s look at other options before we hand over the whole Village to the Town.

In my view, incorporation as a city is the right option for the Village of Cobleskill. First off, to those of you thinking that Cobleskill is too small to be a city, let me just say, there is no minimum population required for a community to incorporate as a city. In fact, if Cobleskill became a city, it would not be the smallest is New York State. The City of Sherrill has a population of 3,109. Cities like Little Falls, Salamanca and Mechanicville all have a population of around 5,000.

Incorporating as a city, would politically and legally remove the Village from the Town. Presently, Village taxpayers pay taxes to both the Village AND the Town. If the Village became a city, residents would no longer owe taxes to the Town. A similar level of services would still have to be provided, but now the Village/City would have more control over how that money was spent and how those services were provided. This of course would eliminate any potential discrepancies over how the Town budgets and spends “Town-inside-Village” revenue. The problem in Cobleskill is not necessarily duplication of services, but the de facto obligation of Village residents to fund services that they do not use. Even aside from the above-mentioned discrepancies, the Village has to be losing some money on the taxes its residents pay to the Town. We need to know exactly how much of the Village’s share of town taxes actually benefits Village taxpayers and how much doesn’t. If the Village could use this money to cut taxes or increase spending on Downtown development, this alternative must be explored.

The best part, however, is that the very idea of the Town losing Village tax revenue will change the bargaining balance of power between the Town and Village on a whole bunch of issues (at the very least).

At the county level, the Village/City would now get its own representation on the County Board of Supervisors who could in turn be an advocate for bringing county funds back to the Village. At present, the Village is represented at the County level by the Town Supervisor. Can this person be expected to adequately represent the interests of the Village when Town-Village relations go sour? This would allow for a better opportunity to direct a more appropriate share of the Village sales taxes (which are collected by the County) back to the Village itself. A County Supervisor representing solely the village/city of Cobleskill would be able to focus all of his or her time on bringing back county resources, as they would not serve simultaneously as a Town executive.

Downtown Cobleskill needs to be focusing on rehabilitating streets and facades and finding ways to bring back businesses. We should be looking for ways to empower the community to do this, not ways to cut its legs off and serve it up to another municipality.

Downtown Cobleskill is an entirely different animal than the Town of Cobleskill and requires (at the very least) a separate municipal corporation to provide for its needs and future development. I believe we should look into reincorporation as a city, and at the very least we should rule out dissolution or consolidation with the Town.

I’ll admit, I don’t have all the answers on this subject (in fact, I haven’t been able to find anyone who does), but it certainly warrants more attention and exploration than it received at the Village’s recent public meeting on the subject of consolidation and sharing services.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

you say "village clerk makes a little more";
I say she makes close to $70000 a year with benefits. Unquestionably a valuable asset-- but to whom? For a guy who has so much inside info at least get your trustee(d) informant to give you accurate facts. Another thing , I believe the last village to be a city was in the late fourties. Reason is the guys & dolls ( senators) who make that decision don't want to cut up the already small pie. Despite the poor journalism (facts)I do like your ribald humor.

Anonymous said...

What does the Town of Cobleskill have to “share” in exchange for these services?
answer: DEVELOPABLE LAND

Anonymous said...

Haven’t you ever heard the saying: two heads are better than one?


Are you implying that there is a doper on the Village Board? Shame on you!

Anonymous said...

DEVELOPABLE LAND is not necessarily a great asset. Already-developed land, re-used in creative ways, is at least as valuable. Probably moreso, since the infrastructure is already in place. Neither prospect is a free ride.

Sean Thomaston said...

"Are you implying that there is a doper on the Village Board? Shame on you!"

Doper? What are you 90?

Sean Thomaston said...

You say: “developable land”. To me this sounds like open space and farmland that developers want to turn into McMansions and big box stores

I say, the Village giving up its water, sewer and police protection services in exchange for more development that will only make Downtown less relevant does not seem like a wise trade off.

Sorry if my comment that the "Village clerk makes a little more than the Mayor", seems confusing, but “poor journalism” it is not. Maybe my wording was a little misleading, but $70,000, is within an appropriate salary range for someone serving in a full-time semi-administrative capacity in local government. Had I said “the clerk makes only slightly more than the Mayor”, you might have a case. But given the fact that the clerk’s position is a full time job and the Mayor and Trustees are not (in fact they are under no real obligation to show up to meetings or do anything substantive at all), the salary difference is not that significant. If you want to take exception with how I describe the difference between the Mayor’s salary and the Clerk’s salary, that’s okay, a little petty, but it’s fine with me. But to suggest that it is the result of not having facts or accurate information, is a little excessive. Maybe you are afraid that my argument makes a little too much sense and you don’t want to hear it, so you imagine that my facts are wrong? Do what you gotta do.

Regarding the final argument about the last villages to reincorporate as a city (you’re close: it was Peekskill and Rye in the early 1940s), I would just like to point out a few things. You are right that the final say on incorporation as a city rests with the state legislature, but the legislators are not responsible for the lack of incorporations in the latter half of the 20th century. Many times, large villages are governed by the same party that governs the town government and county governments and is not going to risk losing support or hurting their fellow party members by talking about reincorporation. Secondly, many communities who do seek municipal incorporation go from being an unincorporated hamlet to a Village as this brings land use controls, which is enough to satisfy most.

Unfortunately, the main opposition to reincorporation from Village to City comes from the people in those communities. Often times, people don’t like the connotations associated with the term “city” or they believe that becoming a city will causes their taxes to go up. If in fact the latter is true, reincorporation is probably a bad idea. But it should be thoroughly investigated, not simply demagogued.

In recent years, lot’s of communities have been investigating reincorporation as a city to either lower taxes or settle disputes with surrounding Towns. The Times-Journal recently mentioned the two case of The Village of Wellsville in Allegany County and the Village of Cooperstown. In Orange County, the Village of Kiryas Joel, a community of hasidic jews has debated becoming a City as well.

If any one of these communities demonstrates a majority of support for reincorporation as a city via petition and referendum, it’s unlikely that the Leg. will deny them.

Anonymous said...

You sound like a smart person. Do us all a favor and "FOIL" the town and village and publish the salaries of all the town and village employees. That would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

"the Village giving up its water, sewer and police protection services in exchange for more development that will only make Downtown less relevant does not seem like a wise trade off. "



The village does not give up anything. Smart development will sustain both the water and sewer funds and at the same time help downtown. Since all or most of the land mass is in the Town it makes sense to annex into the village. Downtown development can be done wisely or arrogantly. Some of the pitchmen for downtown(mckay) have exhibited the latter rather than the former approach.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
DEVELOPABLE LAND is not necessarily a great asset. Already-developed land, re-used in creative ways, is at least as valuable. Probably moreso, since the infrastructure is already in place. Neither prospect is a free ride.

this might be true in a metropolitan area but not in a rural community like cobleskill.

Sean Thomaston said...

“The village does not give up anything.”?

Please reconsider. If the Village loses control over the water and sewer resources that Village residents have invested in and sustained, they lose their only bargaining chip capable of bringing development into the Village. When all the desirable open space in the Town has water and sewer service what incentive will there be to do infill development in the downtown area?

If the Village loses the ability to tax and spend as a separate municipal corporation, it loses the ability to focus resources on rehabilitating Downtown/implementing the Downtown redevelopment plan. If the Town get’s this tax money instead it will spend it on new infrastructure improvements in the East End, subsidizing further sprawl.

The Village also stands to lose its autonomy over land use and zoning controls. Dissolve the Village and these controls are ceded to the Town. Not only will the Town have no incentive to plan for development in the best interest of the fmr. Village, they will actually have an incentive to sabotage downtown in favor of large new developments on the periphery, as this will mean more sales tax revenue from around the county (and beyond) and more business for land developers, in short it means more growth potential.

Oh, but, I forgot…we might save pennies eliminating a few salaries.

Anonymous said...

you said:
Please reconsider

I say: stop regurgitating text book material from your college "planning and development" course. You don't have a single thought that you could call your own. When you get out of school and into the real world give us a call. Blah Blah Blah!!!!!!

Sean Thomaston said...

You're right, the absolute last thing Cobleskill needs is people with a college education throwing their two cents in.

Read a text book? Yes, I admit it. In fact, I have read (gasp!) several. How will my mind ever recover?

You have made me realize that I am too educated to meaningfully contribute anything to this debate.

If only we could all be dumbasses like you.

Anonymous said...

If only we could all be dumbasses like you.


Typical liberal. After losing an argument revert to baseless name calling.

Sean Thomaston said...

"you said:
Please reconsider

I say: stop regurgitating text book material from your college "planning and development" course. You don't have a single thought that you could call your own. When you get out of school and into the real world give us a call. Blah Blah Blah!!!!!!"

Sorry, but you really are a dumbass if you somehow think this constitutes a substantive argument. This post signaled that you wished to move beyond legitimate argument into name-calling and personal attacks. Either way, I'm happy to reciprocate.

It is clear that your argument style is derived from the Hannity/Limbaugh model. Unfortunately for you, this is not a call-in show and you don't get to have the last word.

Maybe if you had some thoughts of your own, you wouldn't have to resort to such tactics.

Anonymous said...

Point-
If the Village loses control over the water and sewer resources that Village residents have invested in and sustained, they lose their only bargaining chip capable of bringing development into the Village.
Counter point
How does the village lose control when they have the populous vote 3 to 2 over the town? Currently the town board's supervisor is a village resident. One of the council persons is a village resident. A mere 5 votes prevented a 3 council person from being on the board. So the control is really in the voters hands.

Sean Thomaston said...

But you are assuming that all village residents vote as a single bloc. The reality is that the Village is about split between people who want a more conservative policy with regards to use of Village services to support town development and people (like fmr. Mayor Gilmore) who are totally in support of it. Dissolving the village would combine the pro-growth village vote with the pro-growth town vote and most likely drown out the opposition in the Village.
To me this seems like an unfair tactical move by forces who simply want access to Village water and sewer services. In my opinion, based on following political locally, this would not be in the long-term interests of the community of the Village of Cobleskill.

Since neither of us knows how the town and village would ultimately end up administering the water and sewer services given future dissolution, we can only assume. I’m assuming that with no village government, water and sewer lines would be extended to wherever they are desired, providing the geography allows natural flow, and in short time to where geography doesn’t allow.

In such a situation, it would be impossible to prevent this, even if the Town Board was completely made up of fmr. Village residents. It would be illegal to pick and choose who in your jurisdiction gets water/sewer and who doesn’t. With a Village, officials have more say in who gets what.

Plus, at the Town level, there is an incentive to support highway commercial development on the periphery of the Village as this will lead to higher property tax and sales tax revenue. Even if village residents are running the town, they will still be pulled toward subsidizing bad development.

Anonymous said...

It is clear that your argument style is derived from the Hannity/Limbaugh model.

coming from the stewart/maher mold you should talk. A dumbass is someone who thinks the Mohawk River runs through Cobleskill.

Sean Thomaston said...

John Stewart and Bill Maher are hilarious, I'll take that as a complement.

As far as my blog name is concerned, it's meant to be a catch-all for Upstate-related commentary in general. Plus, depending on who you talk to, Schoharie County is part of the greater Mohawk Valley region.

It's memorable, catchy, and it sounds a lot better tnan "Slums Along the Cobleskill Creek".

But whatever...

This is pretty fun, we should try debating in public. People would watch this.

Anonymous said...

you are a worthy adversary. Smart articulate and bold. You should consider running for village trustee. We need people with insight and balls. We have one too many weasels currently on the Village board. The M&M duo must go.

Anonymous said...

What does b98 a45 mean on the sign in the pix on front page

Anonymous said...

you said:
John Stewart and Bill Maher are hilarious, I'll take that as a complement

I say
It is compliment not complement
DUMBASS

Sean Thomaston said...

"It is compliment not complement"

Very good, Akeelah. Thanks for fearlessly pointing out those devastating flaws in my argument. You're like a human...spell-checker, striking fear into the hearts of sloppy and careless bloggers everywhere.

Anonymous said...

you said:
You're like a human...spell-checker, striking fear into the hearts of sloppy and careless bloggers everywhere.
I say:
This is the first statement you have made that is not cut and paste googlized dribble. Funny how revealing original thought is. Sloppy and careless suits you well.

Sean Thomaston said...

Google is a powerful research tool.

The New Mayor said...

Why couldn't the Town of Cobleskill buy some of that developable land in the town of Cobleskill and build it's own Resevior, Water treatment, sewage treatment plant, and tell the village to go to hell? For that matter we could put in toll boothes and charge villagers for traveling Town Highways!

Sean Thomaston said...

The Town has talked about doing this actually. But I don't see how building even a tiny reservoir and sewage treatment system could be justified.

Tollbooths on Town roads? No, but the Village could benefit from some congestion pricing during peak travel hours. Something should be done about the traffic. Maybe we could level Scholet's and the rest of the block and put in another lane to Wally World.

Anonymous said...

b98= Binghampton, 98 miles
a45= Albany, 45 miles

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