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Scozzafava has emerged in a new role as Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government
Scozzafava has emerged in a new role as Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government

Scozzafava takes on reform and downsizing of local governments

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Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing to downsize state government in New York by more than $10 billion. But he's also trying to shrink the number of local governments and school districts. Cuomo is cutting aid to towns and villages, while also pushing for a cap on local property taxes.

One of the people leading that effort is former North Country Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava from Governeur. Cuomo picked Scozzafava in January to serve as Deputy Secretary of State for Local Government. As Brian Mann reports, Scozzafava says the state isn't trying to force communities to dissolve or consolidate their local governments.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Dede Scozzafava spoke yesterday at the annual Adirondack Park Local Government Day in Lake Placid.  

She made it clear that state officials know they're walking a fine line when trying to use their influence to restructure local governments. 

Scozzafava said she had overheard one local leader at the conference expressing indignation.

"He said, Who does the state think that they are trying to tell local governments what we need to do, given the mess that the state is in.  That is a very good question.”

Scozzafava gained national attention during the special House election in 2009 when she clashed with Conservative Doug Hoffman.

The former assemblywoman is also a former village council member and a former mayor from Governeur.  She says decisions about major changes to local government structures will have to be made locally.

"My perspective from the Local Government Unit in the Department of State is not to tell towns and villages what you need to do.  It's to enter into a dialogue about how we at all different levels of government can be more effective and more efficient." 

In fact, the push from Albany is a little more direct than just opening a dialogue.  The state is cutting millions of dollars in direct aid to local governments – and millions of dollars more in aid to school districts. 

The state is also offering huge amounts of aid to governments willing to merge or share services. 

"It went from $4 million that we can grant out in local government efficiency programs to $79 million," Scozzafava noted.

The Cuomo administration is also offering more than $250 million in aid to school districts willing to merge or at least share administrative services.  

New York state has more than five hundred illages, along with nearly a thousand towns and cities, as well as hundreds of school districts and dozens of counties.  

Speaking yesterday, Scozzafava acknowledged that the goal is to see some of those governments disappear.

"There are a lot of taxing jurisdictions, that it really makes sense to look at dissolution and consolidation. But that's not saying that it makes sense for every town and village.  But it does make sense for every town and village to begin to have a discussion about how we can do things perhaps a little more efficiently regionally."

Scozzafava also spoke yesterday about her other new role, as a member of the Adirondack Park Agency board.

In that position, she’ll vote on some big projects now being considered in the Adirondacks, including the resort planned for Tupper Lake. 

"Sometimes we look to always be on opposite sides and I think there are a lot of issues where we can be on the same side.  There are win-wins that we can all have.  And I guess that's the position I take both as Deputy Secretary of Local Governments and as a Park commissioner.”

Scozzafava described it as an honor to sit on the APA board.

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