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Batavia town residents opposing consolidation dominate discussion at meeting

By Howard B. Owens

If the fate of town/city consolidation were to be judged by one meeting, the prospects are not good, especially from the Town of Batavia perspective.

The majority of speakers Thursday night said they were town residents. They spoke passionately of their opposition to consolidation, and their statements often elicited rousing applause from the audience.

Some 60 people attended the public forum held at Batavia High School last night.

Two themes emerged: The consolidation idea is something of a referendum on the decades-ago urban renewal in Downtown Batavia; and, a strong distrust of Albany.

"Keep in mind that the decisions that are made today will effect generations to come," said Gary Diegelman, a town resident. "Decisions that were made back in the '60s are still affecting us today like urban renewal downtown."

City resident and town land owner George Galliford sounded willing to entertain the notion of consolidation, but struck many skeptical notes.

"Being a progressive sounds very good," said Galliford. "I think people like to think of themselves as progressive. As somebody mentioned earlier at one time there were some progressives in Batavia, and they did urban renewal. There aren't a lot of people around today that would necessarily say that urban renewal and being progressive was a great thing for Batavia."

Barb Galliford questioned whether the state would continue to fund the new government agencies at the levels promised right now. If the consolidation took place, state grants to the new city (if a city form of government were chosen) would increase to $790,000, making up the bulk of an anticipated $1 million in "cost savings" for the new entity.

"And the money the state is saying they're going to give us, they cut things all the time," Galliford said. "There's no guarantee we're going to receive that every single year, or that it will even increase. As far as I'm concerned, I'm definitely not for this consolidation."

"I don't know what kind of guarantees the state can give us, because I don't have a whole lot of faith in the state," George Galliford said.

"If it's not broke, don't fix it," said Rita  Towner. "My concern is, like every one else here, the state has no money. In fact the city, in the bad shape that it's in, is in better shape, I think, than the state is in."

As he has previously, Jason Molino stressed that while there are no guarantees, the state money has been very reliable in the past. Large constituencies in Buffalo, Rochester, Albany and other larger cities in the state get a far greater share of these grants and depend on it tremendously. And consolidation of local governments is a major objective for the governor and state legislature.

Some people after the meeting pointed out that there's no guarantee that the Town Board will never raise taxes either. What happens to the town, for example, if in 2018, when the current sales tax agreement with the county expires, and the county decides to no longer share that revenue. The town will be without recourse, but by state law, a city can override such a decision.

Audio Clips:

Robert Hunt

The only money saved is $100,000 by eliminating the Town court. The rest of the so called savings is aid money from the state that is not guaranteed every year. Hard sell for me.

Jun 19, 2009, 9:47am Permalink
Scott Strang

Andy Eldridge is my neighbor, I'd like to hear his audio clip. as I was unable to attend the meeting at work... but it throws a 404 File not found when I click it.... Maybe you can fix that link?

Jun 19, 2009, 10:57am Permalink
Penny Alderman

Remember that this consolidation isn't a foregone conclusion. The meetings are the first step. Get out and listen and tell them what you think.

We CAN vote NO when the vote comes up... Don't stay home, get involved!

The committee tried to tell us that if we become a new "city"... we can bargain for more of the sales tax collected. What they don't seem to understand is that if they take more from the county - the county will have to raise our county taxes. The county doesn't have a surplus either. So if the city takes more money - the county has to raise the taxes from us anyway.

Let the committee know that you don't like the idea of "one Batavia".

Jun 20, 2009, 12:54pm Permalink
John Roach

The Committee did not say you can bargain for more sales tax. I was the one who brought the question up about the tax.

The "new" city/town would get just what they both get now, no more and no less until 2018.

That year (2018), the sales tax contract with the County is up and you go back to the table for a new deal

Jun 20, 2009, 12:59pm Permalink
Howard B. Owens

And, what will the town do if the county says, "sorry, no more sales tax for you"?

The town will have no leverage. The city, on the other hand, as it's been explained to me, will have leverage. That's the way the state laws are written.

I'm not saying that as a proponent of consolidation, just stating what I understand to be the facts of the situation.

The town residents made a lot of comments about not being able to predict the future regarding state grants to cities. They could very well go away (and I think the weakest part of the argument for consolidation is the over reliance on state grants to achieve "cost savings.") Well, neither can the town residents predict the future about their own taxes. It's not written in stone that there will never be a town tax.

Jun 20, 2009, 1:19pm Permalink
John Roach

You're right, the City has a few options under State law if the County tried to cut its share, including dropping out of the water deal. But, that's why we need to elect good people this year to the County Legislature. We can not count on the ones we have now to stick up for the City.

Jun 20, 2009, 2:09pm Permalink

Sorry if this sounds like a dumb question, but will the voting in November be by both the town folks and city folks in one combined vote? Or will each group vote independent of each other?

Example 1: 16,000 city vote for consolidation. 6,000 town vote against. Since both city AND town must agree to consolidate, vote fails due to town turning down the resolution.


Example 2: 16,000 city + 6,000 town = 23,000 vote on consolidation. Majority rule, city wins, and consolidation goes through.

Both examples seem to make the voting moot.

Example 1, clearly few from the town want consolidation, they vote no, consolidation fails since both the city AND the town must agree to consolidation. (What's the point of having the city vote in this scenario?)

Example 2, city has more people than town, in a combined vote, majority rules, city easily wins, consolidation passes. (In this scenario, what's the point of even asking the town to vote?)

Jun 24, 2009, 10:17pm Permalink
John Roach

First both the City Council and Town Board must vote to put it on the ballot.

Then, both the town and city, in seperate votes have to approve it. If either one votes no, it's dead.

So the city could vote yes and the town no. The deal is dead

If consolidation is approved, then the issue of population comes into play (majority rules). Truth is nobody knows what the rules will be or who will write them.

Jun 24, 2009, 10:26pm Permalink

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