From many, one
As local and state governments look to cut costs during the recession, many are considering consolidating services with neighboring jurisdictions. Consolidation proponents say it will save taxpayers money, and services will run more efficiently. However, opponents say the cost savings are overstated, and consolidation will only reduce services to residents.
New York State in June passed a bill that would allow residents of a town, village or special district to dissolve that government or district by referendum. The local government or district would then transfer its services to another municipality.
The bill, according to Gov. David Patterson, aims to eliminate some of the state’s approximately 4,900 taxing entities and reduce New York’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes. However, Mark Lavigne, communications director for the New York State Association of Counties, says streamlining government should not be limited to the local level, and that the state should look into consolidating some of its services as well.
In light of declining revenues and a decreasing population, Youngstown, Ohio, is considering eliminating one of its three municipal judges and consolidating its municipal court system with four Mahoning County courts in nearby towns into one body in the same building. City officials say cutting the municipal judgeship would save $200,000 annually, and consolidating the court system would save several hundred thousand more dollars a year. While the city maintains that the three judges currently handle significantly less casework than the state average, opponents of the plan say there is more to the judges’ job than the amount of cases they handle.
LaVigne says governments that are considering consolidation must weigh the potential cost savings against possibly reduced government services. “There can be a benefit from consolidation, but each case should be considered carefully,” LaVigne says.
Bryan Yurcan is a New York-based freelance writer.
Consolidation’s Legal Defense
“Not everyone has to have their own of everything. We can find ways to consolidate, to merge, to cooperate so we find economies of scale.”
— New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in a July press conference on the state’s new consolidation law, according to The Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, N.Y., Journal News.