After reading “A Study of Shared Service Opportunities for the Village and Town of Cobleskill, NY” prepared by the Center for Governmental Research, I couldn’t help but notice an interesting point: if implemented, the ‘shared service opportunities’ recommended by CGR would seem to result in an annual savings less than the cost of this study. I'm not saying the study wasn't worth paying for (in fact it was paid for by a NY state grant), but I would like people to understand exactly how much is at stake here: It ain't much.
So what’s the rush? Mayor Sellers and Trustee Mark Galasso have both displayed an eagerness to dissolve the village that is not warranted and quite likely not supported by village residents. Since the CGR study only addressed potential savings, and ignored what village residents might lose in the process, I would like to shed light on this ignored aspect.
While the study repeatedly overstated the pennies to be saved by eliminating salaries and sharing equipment, there was virtually no acknowledgment of the benefits that village governments provide residents. Smaller, more intimate municipal units such as villages provide an important political space or political community that allow for expressions of local autonomy, community identity and face-to-face democracy. Many Village residents understandably value these things, making the imposition of consolidation seem highly questionable.
The CJR very vaguely alludes to the benefits of joint planning efforts by the Town and Village. But little is said of the fact that consolidation would eliminate the Village Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Scenic and Historic Preservation Board, thus eliminating a good chunk of Village residents’ political autonomy. Dissolving these boards costs Village residents the ability to control what happens closest to them and instead forces them to share this power with people who may have less of a connection to that immediate community.
These questions, which seem to fall outside the purview of the current discussion of the merits of consolidation, cast serious doubts on the wisdom of dissolving Cobleskill Village. Both Trustee Mark Galasso and Mayor Mike Sellers (Cobleskill’s oddest couple, to be sure) have been feverishly pushing consolidation. Galasso’s support for cannibalizing the Village can be explained by his own thirst for Village water and his support for unrestrained sprawl development. Mayor Sellers on the other hand should know better. Both of these individuals need to take a step back and consider the costs and not just the savings associated with consolidation.
To put it in terms I’m sure Mayor Sellers will understand, could a 21 year old member of the Green Party get elected to the top position in the Town of Cobleskill, where the Village’s center-left voters (including SUNY students) are sure to be completely drowned out by the Town’s Republican majority? Put simply, what’s the rush to eliminate the only constituency in Schoharie County capable of electing a progressive government? The point I’m making here is that the town and village ARE different, and that they are not separated by some imaginary line, but by significant demographic, economic, and political conditions.
Outside consultants and state bureaucrats all think consolidation is a great idea because it will result in greater efficiencies. But the benefits of village government are simply beyond the purview of these analyses. Cobleskill has done just fine with a village for the past 150 years. So can someone please explain this rush to get rid of the village in order to save a few pennies?