Consolidation: Are we heading towards a New Batavia?
Everybody's talking about consolidation. Will the city and town of Batavia merge into a single entity? Even more important than that: If it does, what will that mean for me and my taxes? In the hopes of shedding some light on the topic—rather than further obfuscating the issue by pandering to rumor—we thought to invite two of the major players down to our office for a video interview. We had hoped to ask Charlie Mallow, the city's council president, and Greg Post, the town's supervisor, to explain as succinctly as possible the central issues involved in a potential consolidation.
Unfortunately, Post didn't have much to say. It's far too early in the game, he said. Most of what we've been hearing so far has been "a lot of hype and political posturing," he said. He then recommended we check out the memorandum issued by the Center for Governmental Research on the upcoming consolidation study. Once we've done so, he would be more than willing, he said, to answer questions pertaining to specifics as they were mentioned in that document. So we did that. In fact, the document is right now sitting on the desk before me.
Before we turn again to Mallow and Post with some more specific questions, we thought it would be a good time to extract a few choice nuggets from the memorandum to help give folks a clearer idea of just where we are in this whole process and just where we may be going. Hadn't someone said that we would be voting on whether to consolidate as soon as November? Could that be true? Well, before we jump that gun, let's look at what we do know (all of the following excerpts have been taken from the memorandum by the Center for Governmental Research issued to the "City and Town of Batavia Consolidation Study Committee" on December 15). You may download the complete document here.
"The overall objective study was to identify ways to make the joint operations of the two governments more effective and efficient, by exploring ways to work together incrementally under a shared services approach, up to and including full consolidation of the two governments. Results of the study are expected to be delivered by October, 2009."
"If the City and Town of Batavia consolidate into one government ... This would be enough to reduce the combined property tax levy of the City and Town by 15% per year."
"In greater Batavia, local governments have ironed out their differences over provision of regional water service, and the City and Town have worked cooperatively on a regional waste water treatment system. However, current boundaries and the resulting turf protection issues have made it very difficult to develop cost effective regional solutions to deliver ambulance, police and fire services."
"Batavia already has two distinct advantages in pursuing consolidation:
- Most public school students in the town attend the Batavia City School District. Thus, there is not a town versus city conflict in public education within the greater community.
- The City and Town share the same name, thus there would be no loss of brand identity from the perspective of the outside world if the two entities were to consolidate."
"Fortunately for Batavia ... the top elected leaders in both the City and the Town are willing to actively support consolidation as being the right thing to do for the greater community in the long run."
Those are the main points made in the first part of the memorandum. Perhaps the most significant recommendation comes later on in the report, under the section: Moving Forward. It recommends that the joint study committee "should strongly consider developing a plan for consolidation that, if approved by the City Council and Town Board, could be put to a vote in the general election on November 3, 2009."
Whoa! There it is.
We can't yet say how any of this will work, we don't even have a plan, not even a confirmation of when the plan will start, but in ten months, the residents ought to be ready to put it to a vote! What's more bizarre, if the vote passes, the consolidation wouldn't even happen until 2011.
Here's my favorite line: "For discussion purposes, we will refer to this new consolidated government as New Batavia."
We would encourage anyone who is interested in these developments to download the complete copy of the memorandum (the link is above). There is much more to be read, some of which we hope to highlight in another post tomorrow, including the next steps, brief sketches of the different phases of the project and the four most common questions so far raised.
For now, we're in the midst of Phase One: "Develop a baseline of current operations." This should be completed by March 1, when we dive into the much more complex Phase Two: "Develop a model for New Batavia." That would be finished by May, when we would begin the final phase leading up to the November referendum: "Community discussion..." That's where I'm sure things will get especially interesting.
So... While we're getting things ready for the big discussion, it seems like a great time to ask: What do you want New Batavia to be? I say we build tunnels. Everywhere. Tunnels.