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June 1, 2009 - 9:01pm

Consolidation would save money and not increase taxes, committee reports

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, consolidation.

consolidation meeting.jpg

A united Batavia will clearly lead to cost savings now and in the future consultant Charles Zettek, Jr. told a join meeting of the Batavia City Council and Batavia Town Board this evening.

The immediate savings, conservatively speaking is $943,000, with additional annual savings in future years, said Zettek, VP of Government Management Services.

"There will be no negative impact on the property tax burdens (for residents of both the town and the city)," Zettek said.

Tonight's meeting was designed to present the consolidation committee's report, titled "A Vision of One Batavia," to elected officials from both agencies.

While the meeting was open to the public, questions and discussion were restricted to elected officials and committee members.

The 15 page report will be released on the Web to the public tomorrow along with all the supporting documents, such as spreadsheets comparing city and town expenses and revenues.

A large portion of the "cost savings" actually comes in the form of additional revenue from the state to reward government agencies consolidating services.

That $790,000 per year is would be a perpetual grant annual grant to the new consolidated government. 

There would be additional savings from efficiencies gained by the consolidation, even though no current jobs would be eliminated.  Work force would be reduced over the first five years of the new government through attrition and retirement.

Insuring there is no negative impact on taxpayers is achieved by creating a three-tiered system of taxes and spending that would prevent the town, for example, from being burdened by city debt or the expense of fully funded police and fire operations.

In the new system, Tier 1 would cover the consolidated region, both city and town. Tier 2 would be the current city and Tier 3 would be the current town.

Tier 1 would pay for and receive services and government agencies that serve both parts of the new jurisdiction equally, such as public works and city/town administration.

Tier 2 would pay for and receive the services currently received by city residents, such as police and fire protection and garbage collection. Tier 2 taxpayers would also shoulder the burden of the city's existing debt until it was paid off.

Tier 3 would continue to receive fire protection from the volunteer fire departments and police protection from the Sheriff's Office.  Taxes would not be increased in Tier 3 to pay for Tier 2 services or debt.

As for whether the new jurisdiction would be a city or a town, that's yet to be decided, but Lynn Freeaman said the committee saw more advantages, both in cost savings and grants from the state, in forming a new city government rather than a town.

Audio:

UPDATE: I forgot to include: There will be two public meetings where residents can weigh in and ask questions. One June 18 and one June 30, both at 7 p.m.  One will be at Town Hall, one at City Hall, though which one on which date has yet to be determined. Also if it looks like turn out will be sufficient, one will be at Batavia High School.  Since there are many details to flesh out, and options to be considered, public input is an important part of the process.

UPDATE: Here's WIVB's coverage:
Mark Potwora
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Howard Great Reporting...aren't you glad you don't have to drive an hour to get home..You might be witnessing the birth of a new progressive Batavia...
Bea McManis
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...and to think, we heard it here FIRST!!!
Howard B. Owens
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Oh, man, it's so nice to drive like five minutes from town hall to my house, plop down and start writing. Thanks.
John Roach
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I like the idea of merger, but will read the report first. The only problem I see before reading the report is the State paying the $790,000 each year. With the problems the State has and will continue to have, do you really think that after a few years they will not cut that money? The State has gone back on their word too many times for smart people to trust that money will be there every year
Howard B. Owens
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John, this question came up last night. Molino a nnd another committee member addressed it. Basically, to summarize what I remember this morning -- consolidation is high on the state's priority list; even this year, funding wasn't cut, in fact, it was increased slightly; even before the current grant program, there was some similar program for cities -- the money's long been there and it's never been cut.
John Roach
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Howard, The State will fund it for a few years, but remember, they took the Federal money this year to bail them out. When that ends in a year or two, what then? We have seen the State cut aid to schools and cities already. They cut the Star program also. The State will have to raise taxes and cut programs. Maybe your right and this time they will keep their word, there is a first time for everything, right?
Peter O'Brien
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Of course consolidating was high on the government's list. It means more power. That's really all this is about. If it were about saving then taxes could be lowered and that is not mentioned at all.
Howard B. Owens
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John, I'm just repeating what I heard. Whether it's true or not, or would prove to be true, I don't know and have no position on.
John Roach
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One question that has come up is the City Charter Commission. Some people, like Councilman Ferrando, do not want it on the ballot if the merger vote is on at the same time. He and a few others think that two votes at once will confuse the city voters. I disagree with Mr. Ferrando. I have every reason to believe that the voters in the City of Batavia can understand and vote on two issues at once. Also, if merger is voted for, the “new” government will not be fully in place for 12-24 months. Our Charter change recommendations will make this change easier and will make the running of the City Council smoother during the transition. If the combined new Batavia goes with a City form of government, this updated Charter will serve as a good basis to build around.
Charlie Mallow
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The extra aid from the state is called AIM aid. The state would never cut that, that number is always raised if anything. AIM aid is the third rail for Albany politicians; no one would dare cut it. In fact, if you have been paying attention, no one cuts anything in Albany. Where does this notion that anything is cut in that town come from? It’s surreal to even read that in print. Wake up.. Maybe it’s too early.
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Posted by Peter O'Brien on June 2, 2009 - 7:37am Of course consolidating was high on the government's list. It means more power. That's really all this is about Bites my tongue.
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Not really, otherwise you wouldn't have posted anything at all.
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Posted by Andrew Erbell on June 2, 2009 - 8:15am Not really, otherwise you wouldn't have posted anything at all. You are right. Discretion, sometimes is the better part of valor. The absolute belief there are power grabbing ghosts and goblins behind every government initiative is so negative that I was tempted to go on a tangent. However, it is way too early in the morning and I've only had a couple cups of coffee and a glass of orange juice. I need more fuel.
Peter O'Brien
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Show me one part of government that isn't expanding its power and I will show you a blue fire truck
daniel cherry
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Is there going to be a vote?Are there certain ,individuals, who will gain from this?Who's idea was this?
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Charlie the statement that Albany doesn't cut anything is wrong...Were's the star rebate...school aide gets cut..To me it is not weather the state gives us more money,Does this consolidation give us better government with less waste...If this all about the state handing out money and no other good comes from it,Then whats the sense..I think this will work and that we will to be able to cut the government payroll.No need for all this double coverage of services needed..This seems like a very positive move that make so much sense...
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The key, is where the cuts are being made. I wonder how they determine this. God forbid its out of the big wigs pockets, and payroll.
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With a sound, open mind, I can see this being beneficial to an ailing City of Batavia Business district, but I'd like to see where this is positive for the Town of Batavia? I am for smaller government. So I'm on the fence about this entire proposition. Seems like the City is "hungry" for the Town's sales tax revenues generated by the new stores along Veteran's Memorial Drive. All the work done by the town for engineering studys and ifrastructure upgrades to facilitate this growth certainly must have widened the eyes of the City personnel. Here's my thoughts... This I trust, is not fact. At best it's entirely hypothetical; So while I currently have no Town of Batavia Property Tax, just school and County, I will now be "sharing the burden" of the city's aging infrastructure. Will I continue to be free of the Town of Batavia Tax? Hmmm... Well most likely yes... But I'll now have to pay "Batavialand Tax." Which is the sum of both Town and City. So if my current Town Taxes are zero... and I'm proposed to pay anything, that for me is an increase. I currently pay $288 a year for garbage pickup [Private Contractor], perhaps that cost would be offset by a tax increase and included in a merged "Batavialand." I dunno. I'm not a "City Boy." But I'd like to see the City of Batavia Business district grow. I shop there when there's products I need. I work there, when there's work. [As a contractor I have to travel and work, where the work is. Sometimes I drive several hours or out of state to earn wages... and yep... I spend it back here in Batavia.] Truly, a healthier City is a benefit to the surrounding Town. So I'm all for smaller government. But this United "Batavialand" seems to be more enticing to the city folks.
Howard B. Owens
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Well, the big question is: What's in it for the town, and proponents are going to need to make the case. I will say, I didn't sense any opposition from any of the town's elected leaders last night. Maybe they're keeping their powder dry at this point, but it could be telling -- maybe they see benefits that haven't been widely discussed yet. Or maybe they believe in the cost savings and additional revenue from the state and see that as a net benefit to the town. The whole Veteran's Memorial Drive thing is one of the more intriguing aspect of this -- to me, the benefits of bringing in those big boxes into the town have been mixed for the town ... some increase in sales tax revenue, but at what cost?, and then, what options did the town have to increase revenue otherwise? So, in a consolidated government, will the newly elected body have enough votes representing the "city's" interest to oppose and resist further big box development, which is extremely harmful to the city's business core, or will the elected get swept up in the bling-bling of more big chains coming in? I'd personally be more comfortable with consolidation if part of the referendum was language requiring a new comprehensive plan that would protect locally owned businesses.
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I heard on the radio that the proposed plan has three different tax tiers so the town residents that are not paying any Town property tax now, will continue to pay no town taxes.
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The study group web site is supposed to have what was given out last night on its web site today, plus more information like spread sheets. It’s not on yet. The city gets 16.5% of the sales tax now, no matter where the money was spent as part of the water deal. So if Wall Mart sells more, the City gets more. Spend more in LeRoy, the City gets more. The question here is what happens to the percent the Town of Batavia received? Will the new entity get the combined amount? Will Genesee County agree to that? If yes, great! If not, how do we make up the loss? The study papers from yesterday did not address the court system. One or the other court system should go depending on being a town or city. There has to be money saved with just one court system.
Howard B. Owens
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John, I forgot about the sales tax arrangement here. Also, the option in the report for court is eliminate Town Court and keep City Court, which would reduce costs by $104,000. (page 9, footnote 15)
Peter O'Brien
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there are all these savings but what good are savings if the money is not returned to the people
John Roach
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Thanks Howard, I just saw the footnote. I hope we can find the cost savings if we eliminate the City Court instead, which costs more. I think we'll save more if we become a "town" rather than stay a city, but there are still a lot of numbers that have to be looked at, like State and Federal mandates on a city that are not on towns and how much State and Federal aid a town can get compared to a city.
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Peter is right. All this talk about saving but in reality the money just gets spent on something else. If taxes were actually cut comparable to the savings everyone would most likely support it. Unfortunately, the powers that be will spend it like it's new found money. Let's see who says it will go back to the taxpayers with tax cuts and who says where we can spend this new found money. It's election season. Let's listen to who says what.
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I cant prove it but i believe the plan is to save money by not raising taxes and yes, using saved money to improve something else which will be a heated debate too. As long as the plan does not make things any worse then why not ? I dont understand why everyone thinks about getting tax dollars back ? Dissolve every form of structure and give everyone tons of money back ! yeah !
John Roach
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Tim, I would be happy if they used any "saved" money to pay off our huge debts.
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Posted by John Roach on June 2, 2009 - 4:40pm Tim, I would be happy if they used any "saved" money to pay off our huge debts. John, Short and to the point, and very sensible.
Peter O'Brien
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Gabor, you moved to Texas, you don't pay income tax to the state. You get to save money why can't we?
Gabor Deutsch
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Peter, I havent been to Texas since 1984. I live right here in Batavia.
Peter O'Brien
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Oh sorry I am confused then, I thought you said you left and live there now. Sorry
Gabor Deutsch
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I get quite discombobulated myself sometimes too.....

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