Consolidation committee recommends work start on new charter with vote in 2011
Rather than put consolidation to a vote of the people in November, the Consolidation Study Committee is asking governing bodies for both town and city to establish a joint charter commission to draw up a document that would outline what a merged municipality would look like.
Under the new proposal, there wouldn't be a public vote on consolidation until November 2011. Committee members said this would allow both city and town residents to be fully informed about consolidation before voting.
When the committee made its initial report on consolidation two months ago, the plan was to have a yes-or-no vote in both the city and the town in November of this year. If consolidation was approved in both jurisdictions, then a charter commission would be formed.
Now Town Supervisor Greg Post said he prefers a clean-slate approach to create a whole new governing agency for the Batavia community.
"We have an opportunity to sit down with a clean piece of paper and say what works and doesn't work for Batavia," Post said. "We've been given an opportunity that is priceless. People talk about what doesn't work with government, but we have an opportunity to sit down and create one that does work."
But Batavia City Councilman Bill Cox sounded a more cautious, "not so fast" alert during Wednesday night's meeting at the Batavia Town Hall. He's concerned that the consolidation study so far hasn't produced enough actual numbers of hard-cost savings for taxpayers. Plus, he distrusts how much the study committee seems to be leaning on $820,000 a year in grants from Albany for a consolidated government.
Cox is concerned that the biggest city expense -- police and fire personnel -- hasn't been addressed by the study committee.
"Those topic are taboo from being part of the discussion and when you eliminate those two cost centers from the discussion, then the opportunity for cost savings is greatly reduced," Cox said.
City Manager Jason Molino, who served on the study committee, took issue with what he saw as Cox's characterization that the committee had not done its work by omitting police and fire savings in its report.
Molino said the committee made a decision not to delve into that topic because it's really a policy decision that a new governing body will need to address. It's a question that goes beyond mere cost savings: what level of service will residents in the new government want?
The study committee recommends that the consolidated Batavia (and we're assuming it will still be "Batavia") should be a city. As a city, there are advantages both in cost savings, grants from the state and more sales tax authority.
As for how the new city would govern, the committee is recommending an at-large elected mayor and six council wards. There would be one ward for the current town, one for the current city with the remaining four wards split between the town and the city.
That is, if the proposed charter commission likes those recommendations. The eight-member commission (four town residents and four city residents) could decide to go in a completely different direction.
Here's the recommended timetable for consolidation:
August 2009: City and town governing bodies pass a local law to create a joint charter commission. This would require a public hearing. Together, the city and town would apply for a grant to pay for the commission's legal work.
September 2009: Town and city begin interviewing potential charter committee members.
October 2009: Commission members selected.
November 2009: Commission members appointed and begin work.
December 2010: Commission completes work on a new charter.
Spring 2011: City and town governing bodies accept charter and ask state Legislature to place charter on the ballot at the general election in 2011.
Late Summer / Fall 2011: City and town hold public hearings on proposed charter.
November 2011: City and town hold separate votes. The charter must pass in both jurisdictions.
2012: If passed, 2012 is a transition year, preparing for the merger.
November 2012: Election of a mayor and ward representatives (if this form of government is recommended by charter commission).
Jan. 1, 2013: New merged municipality is born.
UPDATE: Download PDF of Consolidation Press Release.