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Slide from Gov. Cuomo's 2014 Budget Address last month.
Slide from Gov. Cuomo's 2014 Budget Address last month.

Counties: not everyone thinks consolidation is a money-saver

In last month's budget proposal address, Governor Cuomo put pressure on local governments to consolidate in order to reduce property taxes and save money.

The New York State Association of Counties is holding its legislative conference in Albany this week, and a new report on government consolidation is on the agenda. Not everyone is convinced mergers are a money saver.

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Reported by

Kate O'Connell
Reporter, The Innovation Trail

In his budget address, Gov. Cuomo said there were more than 10,000 local government entities in the state and reducing that number will result in lower taxes and cost savings.

“Why is the property tax so high, because we have too many levels of government period. You don’t need any calculator to figure this out, when you have as many levels of local government as we have.”

Mildred Warner, professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, disagrees.

“New York state pushes down the financial responsibility for service delivery to the local government level more than any other state in the union, and that’s why our taxes are higher at the local level because things that other states pay for, New York state makes local governments pay for.”

Warner says the Cuomo plan assumes that efficiencies will be gained through consolidation.
But, she says, it’s more likely that savings will be realized through a service-by-service approach. For example, if highway departments share road work equipment, but snow plough services remain localized.

“Consolidation is like a really crude tool to use whereas service sharing is a much more fine tool where you say, ok for this service it makes sense, for that service it doesn’t so that’s why I’m going to go one direction or another.”

Kevin Gaughan, a government reform advocate from Erie county, sees it differently.

He says the argument that this kind of government restructuring doesn’t result in savings is similar to claiming fewer calories won’t result in weight loss.

“I disagree with the rather creative assertions that some would proffer that reducing government size is not going to result in reduced taxes. It is the only reform that will result in reduced taxes in my experience.”

But, Warner says the solution lies at the state level, not with local governments. Warner says it’s time for the state to step up and take some of the burden off local governments.

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