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.