Monday, August 4, 2008

The Case against Sharing Services

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?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't take exception to your perspective here. I simply want to point out that the village represents over 70% of the town population. Subtract out the SUNY population that is counted in that number and you get 65%. Any way you slice it, village residents represent a clear "majority" of the town. Thus, there should be no Republican "majority" in the town since the village voters are all town voters as well. To the extent that we let artificial boundaries dictate our actions and throw up our hands and say that we will "lose control", we are being short sighted and not acting with the full potential of our political power. We can impact this entire region, admittedly whether we dissolve or not, but let's stop looking at things from an "us vs. them" mentality and realize that we as a village can control our destiny whether we exist as a village or we exist as a town.

Anonymous said...

about time someone picked up on this little nugget. The village voters control the town. Tired of paying double taxation-- make sure you vote for the village resident that runs in the next town election.

Niles Beguiles said...

Sellers ran against Gilmore in 2005. It was a referendum on Gilmore more than Seller's abilities. The same will be true in 2009. This time Seller's will be the recepient of voter backlash.

Anonymous said...

Cool

Sean said...

"This time Seller's will be the recepient of voter backlash."

I don't doubt that. Cobleskill has had 7 different mayors since 1990. Cobleskill residents are very hard to satisfy.

Regarding the other point about village voters controlling the town, that's not really true.

Mathematically speaking, you're correct. However, the village creates a constituency where party affiliations don't matter so much and as a result, republicans and democrats typically put their partisan concerns aside and vote independently on village-related issues. At the town level, where candidates run on Rep and Dem ballot lines, the voting tends to become more partisan and Village republicans vote with Town republicans and drown out everyone else. Village elections, because of their non-partisan nature can allow voters to focus on the individual candidate rather than on their party affiliation. This seems trivial, but it's not.

As far as "losing control", I don't think that's necessarily the issue. The point I was making was that village residents benefit from the autonomy that comes with village government. It's a question of scale more than anything else. The ability to speak out at trustee meetings or to serve on planning boards, scenic and historic preservation boards or tree committees affords village residents a more intimate, smaller-scale government.

I don't think village residents would necessarily "lose control" of their community if the village were dissolved, but they would lose these opportunities for participating in a local government that is smaller, more intimate, and closer to home and therefore more responsive.

So far, I have not seen a study that provides a compelling reason to give all that up.

Bob Strollers said...

If I run as an independent in the town and I am a village resident and I have 2 other village residents to run with me and my platform is --village residents vote for me and my 2 friends, and I will relieve you of the double taxation the town is imposing on you---you don't think I'd win? screw the republicans!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The reason sellers is beeing a b__ Buddy with galasso is because eventually he will be out of a job and will need employement or a real job. Gallaso will give him a tocken job or provide the conection. No brain science there.

Anonymous said...

TOcken

no brain speller there
try spellcheck moron.

Anonymous said...

Are you so sure that the majority of people in the village would not support dissolution? As far as the concern for local intimacy I doubt it would be lost by going from a population of 4000 people to 7000 people. We are not talking about New York City taking over Westchester County. I do admit that given the current economic circumstances this state is experiencing, I doubt there will be any money for consolidation purposes. Given the current acrimony that is on display twice a month at village and town board meetings one could envision one board. Thoughtful, planned growth would certainly be more attainable if we eliminated one layer of bureaucracy. One way to put this issue to rest would be to have a referendum. . Once the voters have said their piece it should end.One thing we would have to avoid is a scenario similar to the school merger. In that case they kept putting it on the ballot till the desired results were achieved by the proponents.

Sean said...

I have no idea what Cobleskill village voters want. All I can say is that it would be a mistake for them to support dissolution.

What you call a "layer of bureaucracy", I call a forum for discussion of local concerns that affords residents the opportunity to serve on boards that make decisions about their immediate community and to focus on issues that uniquely affect the village.

I could easily imagine lost intimacy going from a population of 4000 to 7000. Automatically, village issues would be overshadowed by whatever the town board is concerned with, most likely how to appease big box developers and mystery companies.

As for the argument that "thoughtful, planned growth would be more attainable if we eliminated one layer of bureaucracy", I see that as merely wishful thinking.

"thoughful, planned growth" is unlikely when land developers and realtors are running planning and zoning boards. The number of layers of bureaucracy has little to do with it.

Why should there be a referendum? Because 2 people in the village want it dissolved?