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Voters to Settle Local Government Downsizing Debate

Just a couple of days ago, New York State passed a bill that allowed citizens to vote on consolidating governments.  This legislation gives citizens the opportunity to remove ineffective positions.

On Wednesday June 3rd, the Evans and West Seneca voters will make history in deciding whether to downsize their town board from five to three members.  For the first time, these voters will be determining how many people will represent them in government.

As a resident of West Seneca, I have seen and heard opinions on this topic for several months.  Signs litter the lawns, and articles appear in The Buffalo NewsThe Edge’s Shredd and Ragan have picked their side.  Even my friend Vinny Graber, who is the son to a West Seneca councilman, has given me an earful.  What is the fuss all about?

Supporters of downsizing say that we need to save the tax payers money.  One way to do this is to eliminate two members of the town board.  While we all have the economic blues, those in favor of downsizing say that reducing the government would save everyone money.  The Assembly estimates that if the taxpayers downsize throughout New York State, they could save billions of dollars each year.

downsizing3.jpgSam Hoyt is a supporter of downsizing local governments.  Hoyt states, “I have heard from many taxpayers about the crushing cost of local taxes — about the job-killing cocktail of county taxes, town taxes, village taxes, or any of the other taxes triggered by dozens of types of special district taxes.  I’ve heard from Western New Yorkers whose five category taxes are $9,000.  That represents more than 20% of the regional median income.”

But where is this money going to go?  How much money will the average
person be saving?  Will this make our local governments any more
efficient?  Is Hoyt only supporting this because his own job is safe?

The opposition is singing a different tune.  In an article to The Buffalo News, West Seneca councilman Vincent Graber Jr. writes, “Eliminating two council members could save taxpayers only 5.4 cents per thousand of assessed valuation.”  That means, if your house is worth $70,000, you save less than $4 per year. 

In 1851, when the five member board was chosen, the population in West Seneca was 2,000.  Graber argues that five members were needed to run a town of that size.  In 2009, the population has risen to 46,000, yet with the same five member board.  In turn, the residents receive more services, such as snow removal, road repair, park upkeep, and garbage pickup, things that were simply not available in 1851.  Still, we have the same size board, although the population has gone up considerably.

Opponents also fear that downsizing will put too much power into the few remaining politicians.  By only having three board members, these towns have a potential to make decisions faster.  Instead of getting a 3-2 majority, there would only have to be a 2-1.  But would this power be used for the right reasons?

Kathyrn A. Foster, director of the University of Buffalo’s Regional
Institute, warns voters against consolidating.  “There’s a trade-off for
democracy here.  Why have fewer people represent you?” Foster
questions.  “We find three men in a room objectionable in Albany.  We
should think very carefully before we do that locally.”

Regardless of how anyone votes, what is undeniable is that reducing the town board would put more work on fewer people.  Will downsizing really move our towns in the path of progress?  Is this a political ploy, or will these towns and citizens truly benefit?  To watch Graber further debate the issue, a video is available on the Channel 2 News website.

The ballot box is open from 11AM-9PM in Evans and West Seneca on Wednesday, June 3rd for voters to make their own decision.  Similar options will become available to the voters of Orchard Park, Hamburg, and Alden this coming November.

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