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Consolidation: Are we heading towards a New Batavia?

By Philip Anselmo

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.

Russ Stresing

First of all, the fact of the matter is that <i>not enough </i> people are talking about consolidation. Duplication of services costs the voters of Western New York far more in public service employee compensation and legislative compensation than it does other comparable areas across the country.

But as Phil observes in his fit of pique, its not a black and white issue. Consolidation needs to be explained. Its an emotional issue that becomes ever more emotional and parochial the further down it descends the governmental evolutionary ladder. It becomes a personal issue because not only does it involve the generations of families and associations that have roots in this region, it affects people who have chosen to move here because of their appreciation for this area's culture and make-up.

Jan 8, 2009, 7:56pm Permalink
Charlie Mallow

There is a reason a city has never consolidated with a town before. The word “Consolidation” is like nails on a chalkboard to people in elected office. In order to truly embrace the idea you have to come to terms with the notion that the only way for your community to compete is with less government. That’s not a political buzz word in this case, it’s the end result. In order to consolidate, politicians have to be willing to remove themselves from the office they hold and self terminate. Those opposed to consolidation won’t say they are against “Consolidation”, they will say that we need to take this slow. That is code for “I need to look for a way to keep my job”.

Jan 8, 2009, 8:34pm Permalink
Carol Wade

Watch your backs people, this sounds to me like a maze we will never find our way out of. First, in my opinion we do have a territorial issue between City of Batavia and Town of Batavia because i can't foresee anyone loving to give up their job in government to someone in another government. And also, the Town has had much growth in the past years with new businesses moving in and that affects the tax base, I live in the Town of Batavia by the way. I want to know what kind of government would be put in place if we were to consolidate and more than that who would run the show....the City? The Council seems to spend more time arguing amongst themselves than handling the issues that need to be addressed for the good of the people. After all, we the people have a right to expect the best from our elected officials and I have no problem with what happens in our Town, but would need lots of info on consolidation if they were to want my vote to be Yes. The state of America should show folks what happens when government runs amuck and does their own thing and forgets "We the people"

Jan 8, 2009, 10:17pm Permalink
Philip Anselmo

John: Greg Post mentioned to me that he was always in favor of "smaller government" — which I should have included in the post originally. Take that for what you will, but it sounded to me as if he supports consolidation. It was also stated in the report by CGR that Post is in favor of consolidation.

In my conversation with the supervisor, I got the sense that he was rightfully taking cautious steps in the conversation.

If you think about it, combining Charlie's and Russ's comments gives us the perfect picture of this issue. Russ made the point that while it may seem that everybody is talking about consolidation, in fact, not enough people are talking about it. People may make their mouths sound out the word "consolidation," but most of what we hear from people are fears and rumors. As Charlie says, the word itself is "like nails on a chalkboard," though I would go further than to say that that's the case for those in government, and say that many people in the community also shy away from the shriek of the word.

We won't get anywhere in a real discussion of this issue until we can cease cringing and start considering.

Jan 9, 2009, 7:27am Permalink
Charlie Mallow

I hear people talk negatively all the time about NYS. Our taxes are too high, government wastes money and because of this we can’t compete for business. For years we have heard people drone on and on about the need for less government or smaller government. Our area has many places in which we have consolidated and this has been done here to a greater extent than in many other communities in NYS. We now have a chance to show other communities how to turn the “talk” of smaller government into action. The naysayers and those without the ability to accept change will find bogus reasons to complain and slow the process down. The rest will do what they know is right thing for the future of our community.

Greg is a supporter of consolidation. He just wants to make sure that there is a completed plan that he can point to. He wants to be able to show people facts before he talks about it in a public way. If Greg didn’t support the study, we wouldn’t be talking about his right now.

Jan 9, 2009, 7:54am Permalink
Timothy Paine

People do seem to be reacting to the word "consolidation" with out cause. I have been on other sites and have had several discussions on this matter. As I said to others who have had critical reactions when the subject is brought up, "why are you against something that hasn't even been offered?". We don't have any specifics on anything, yet some folks are already trashing the idea. Yes, there are good and bad points to any new ideas. This is why they must be discussed. Does anyone really think the Town leaders would approve a plan that completely favoring the City? Would the City push a plan that only benefitted the Town? Of course not to both counts. I have said that we need to be open about this and wait to see what's proposed.

There are a lot of issues that will take a microscope to determine and that's expected. However, there are some issues that are obviously beneficial, like equipment. Fire equipment, Highway equipment, and Police equipment. All very, very expensive and which a lot of it can be shared. How much equipment is not used everyday? How many of these costly items could be shared if scheduled during non-essential times. Yes all trucks are busy during snow, but during the other three seasons they could easily be rotated. The Police and Fire Depts. already help each other. How much more could be done if they didn't have to duplicate so much stuff? I'm just saying to people to please just be patient and open to future proposals.

Since the City will be out of debt this year, this is not a "bail-out", which I've heard suggested. This is an opportunity to work together and help both communties become more competitive with other regions. We each have things to offer employers and companies. Let's focus our energy on being competitive with other areas and stop it between ourselves. We both have a ton of things to offer, many of them are unique from each other. By changing the focus to what's the same can only make both of us more efficient, thus a stronger competitor. This past year's economic catastrophe was a convincing example of what happens when things are done with a "business as usual" mentality. Everybody has to change how they do things. I myself am very happy to see both sides willing to at least approach this venture. Playing catch-up is a terribly hard thing to do. What the new City leadership has done in a short time is commendable. What the Town has done is also remarkable. This seems to be a good time to have discussions. It's been a long, long time since the City has had leadership that actually paid debt down instead of year after year constantly increasing it. This may be the right time and place. Let's just be patient and remain open to new ideas.

Jan 9, 2009, 8:30am Permalink
John Roach

That is my point. I want Mr. Post to come out and say that in principle, he is in favor of this idea. We all know the details have to be worked out, that's why the have CRG. That's a dodge.

Except for reports that he is in favor of the "idea", and other people, like you and Charlie, saying he is in favor of it, we don't know. I would just like him to come out say that in principle he is in favor of a merger. Go on record like Charlie and others. What is so hard about that?

Jan 10, 2009, 1:32pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

Where do you get your penchant for demanding that people answer your questions and take immediate positions on any issue? You incessantly frame issues as a 'yes or no' question, then summarily demand people answer those questions as you have framed them with no room for nuance nor explanation. From where does the authority to anoint yourself an authority come?

Honestly, John, "consolidation", at this point, is a vague and barely framed idea that is only in the planning stages. I'm all for allowing more development, discussion and education on the options and alternatives before I would even (if ever) strut around insisting that people must respond as I command. This is a time for cooperation and compromise more than an opportunity to bully people.

Really, you're making laz's comments sound ever more coherent.

Jan 10, 2009, 3:57pm Permalink
John Roach

You are right, I don't go for nuance much.

Laz made comments about a 40 year old study without even trying to read it. I ask him to make sense.

You are also right that consolidation/merger is vague at this point. When the plan is all finished, we might all say "no". My question, which should be easy to answer is, "IN PRINCIPLE", are you in favor of a merger or not. That is a yes or no question and nuance has no place. It should not be too hard to answer. Russ, tell me why is that statement wrong?

I am in favor of a merger and I have been for years. I believe both the Town and City will come out ahead. For example, the merger of DPW's and Fire Departments, if done right, can not help but make life better for all and lower their cost. The Town would also get a highly professional Police force, what can be wrong with that?

Every opinion is valid, if you have a reason for it; it's your opinion. But if you give your opinion in a public blog like this, you should be able to give a reason for it.

Jan 10, 2009, 6:00pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

That statement is wrong because you don't say what consolidation entails. You don't define your terms. Explain to me what your definition of consolidation is before you ask for a yes-or-no answer.

On top of that, you're now using merger interchangeably with consolidation. You need to define what you mean by merger versus consolidation.

And if I'm not mistaken, Greg Post is an elected official. He <b>represents</b> a constituency of citizens that he is responsible to whether they voted for him or not. Its not unreasonable to expect that he might respect their opinions and might want to hear from them.

Further, you conclude that "the merger of DPW's and Fire Departments, if done right, can not help but make life better for all and lower their cost" with no more supporting evidence than your opinion. Explain how you think it would be done if it were done right.

You continue to confuse and misrepresent by saying "Every opinion is valid, if you have a reason for it". That's a ridiculous statement. Adding that "you should give a reason for it" doesn't negate the requirement for <i>a good</i> reason. "My opinion about bigfoot is valid because I've read books that say as much".

Western New York needs to address needless additional expenditures due to duplication of services caused by having too many governments. But we don't get there by demanding that officials or citizens swear an unexamined allegiance to an as yet unexplained concept. We get there by planning, sharing, and compromise.

"I am in favor of a merger and I have been for years." I'm in favor of fire and have been for years. But, I go further to say that I'm in favor of fire being used to heat homes when contained within a fire safe vessel that includes safety features to prevent property and life threatening conflagration. See? Somewhat defined, John.

Jan 10, 2009, 8:36pm Permalink
John Roach

Sorry you missed the point. It must have been a nuance.

For the Town and City of Batavia, I mean with "merger" and/or "consolidation" one unit, one government. Easy enough for you?

Do you really think that if done right, one DPW for a merged unit would not save money? Sort of out of touch.

You say WNY needs to address expenditures due to a duplication of service, but then question even the principle of doing that when there is a chance to have what you say we need.

I say your opinion is valid, because on some issues like the soda/pop tax, you give reason for you stand. Now you say that's wrong? OK, if your right, then your opinion is wrong. Make up your mind.

Jan 10, 2009, 8:57pm Permalink
Russ Stresing

Its not about what's easy for me. Its about how difficult it seems for you to explain yourself. This isn't about some self-serving embrace of some vague concept. Since you don't seem willing to do the heavy lifting involved, let me give you a hand.

By 'consolidation' of the town and city, John, do you mean that both municipalities should be blended together as one? And how? And what will the resulting government look like? And the legislative body? Will the civil servants be represented by a single union? Or no union? What do you mean by a DPW merger done right?

John, either you clumsily misrepresented or deliberately meant to confuse the issue by saying I questioned the "the principle of doing that when there is a chance to have what you say we need". What did you mean by that and please be specific.

"OK, if your right, then your opinion is wrong. Make up your mind." John, I don't have a clue what<b> you're</b> saying. Though it may run contrary to Howard's rules, since you've made enough insinuations and snide remarks to this point, I think its fair of me to characterize your statements (not you personally) by quoting my sainted father; you talk like a man with a paper ass.

Jan 10, 2009, 9:20pm Permalink

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