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By narrow margin, council restarts town-city consolidation process

By Howard B. Owens

A proposal to consolidate Batavia's city and town governments is moving forward again.

It appeared that the consolidation effort stalled in August when, on a motion by Councilman Sam Barone, the city council voted 5-4 to table a resolution calling for a public hearing on the process.

Last night, again on a 5-4 vote, the council passed a resolution to apply for a grant to fund creation of a new city charter for a consolidated government and to sign an agreement with the town to appoint a consolidation task force.

The council members who opposed moving forward with the task force and charter process -- Bill Cox, Sam Barone, Rose Mary Christian and Bob Bialkowski -- said they didn't want to see any further effort wasted on talk of consolidation without a clear understanding that people in both jurisdictions wanted bring the city and town together.

Bialkowski asked if a referendum could be held, but City Manager Jason Molino said there were no provisions in state law to allow for a referendum vote without first writing a charter, so Cox asked if maybe the three local media outlets could conduct a survey.

Speaking in favor of moving forward, Councilwoman Kathy Briggs said, "We’ve got to have the facts. We’ve got to have the pros and cons. There are a lot of people who are undecided because they don’t have the facts.”

Councilman Frank Ferrando said he didn't think the public had enough information to make an informed decision just yet about consolidation. He said he didn't have enough information to make up his own mind. He isn't sure it really will save money, but if there is a chance it will, it needs to be studied further, he said.

"We’ve got to start looking into ways to save the taxpayer money," Ferrando said. "We’re not going to do it staying the way we are. We’re just going to keep spinning wheels and we’re going to be breaking people. We’re going to be taking them down further and further and further. I think this deserves study, clear understanding, before we put it to our citizenry to a vote."

Barone disagreed, saying, "I think the information (in previous public meetings) was very well presented."

Cox and Bialkowski said they had doubts about whether consolidation would really lead to much cost savings, noting the previous 12-month study found only $78,000 in potential cost savings.

After the meeting, Molino told reporters that, actually, the study found a potential of $245,000 in savings. Plus, an extra $820,000 in state aid would be available to a consolidated municipality.

The available state grants would provide the task force/charter review committee with $49,500, most of which would cover legal fees associated with writing a new charter. The city and town would each need to contribute $2,500 to the process.

Bialkowski said he was concerned that pursuing consolidation further would be like pouring more taxpayer money down the same hole and at the end of two years, nothing would be accomplished.

The proposed commission would be comprised of four city residents and four town residents, who could not be elected officials, government officials nor their spouses. The appointees would be selected by a joint city-town committee consisting of the council president, the town supervisor and two council members from each body.

Council President Marianne Clattenburg spoke in favor of consolidation saying that it's an obvious waste of resources to have two government bodies providing identical services.

“You talk about shared services, but what’s the ultimate shared service but consolidation, so you don’t have one government entity over here and then five miles away they have a whole other government," Clattenburg said. "The idea is to put them together to save money. It’s not talking about what’s the state going to give us next year.

"It’s about what’s going to happen five, 10, 20 years from now. As the town grows, their administrative costs are going to go up. If they expand, and we hope they do, because it’s good for everybody, then those costs are going to start to get to be as big as ours."

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