Posts Tagged ‘Consolidation’

If a religious leader wrote an article for the paper during an election season stating that their religion was the “only answer” and then implied that not all candidates were as strong believers of the faith as others, I have no doubt there would be a public outcry admonishing this leader to keep religion out of politics. Beyond that, it wouldn’t be surprising if the IRS and ACLU trained their sights on the leader’s organization as a result.

So does anyone else think it’s inappropriate for FMCC President Dustin Swanger to essentially do the exact same thing? In his article published on October 26th in the Amsterdam Recorder, he asserts that the “only answer” for economic growth is through “regional thinking/cooperation” (aka consolidation) and then all but asks us to vote for those who subscribe to that ideology. Of course he carefully hedges and stops short of endorsing any specific candidates, but overall, the message is clear: vote for the “true believers”.

Non-profit organizations risk their tax-exempt status when they endorse political candidates. I’m not sure if FMCC is technically subject to the same restriction. But the college president is a taxpayer-funded, non-elected position. I think Swanger comes very close to overstepping his bounds by using his position (and the visibility that position gives him) to promote a political point of view.

Make no mistake, the latest article from Swanger does not use the term “consolidation” however the idea of combining all localities into a single regional government has been clearly articulated and advocated for in past articles. He’s just using different terminology now.

And also make no mistake that just like all other consolidation proponents, Swanger has yet to show any solid plan or actual numbers that might indicate that municipal consolidation would deliver any tax relief, help restore our downtowns, or revive our economy.  The small scale consolidation plans that I have seen that do work, fall apart once you take out the financial handouts from NY State which is our tax money that is apparently being held in reserve for communities who consolidate.  Consolidation proponents have yet to show how their ideas do anything other than replace more accountable, small governments, with less accountable, big government.

I would definitely recommend that readers take a look at Swanger’s take on the role of community colleges in local politics. He presents a lot of ideas that I think are both good and essential. I think that local colleges providing leadership in the area of economic development is a great idea. But what baffles me is how Swanger’s narrative in the local paper over the years seems contradictory to the ideals he espouses in his thesis.

He affirms that small and medium-sized businesses are essential to revitalizing the economy, but promotes “regional cooperation” which primarily benefits big businesses as the “only answer”.

He talks about the importance of livable communities and neighborhoods and the importance of building up a “sense of community” but then proposes that towns, villages and cities are somehow archaic ideas that need to be done away with.

He talks about community planning as a “resurgence of order” but fails to address how reliance on big businesses (like the type that Mike Mullis works with) have disrupted that order over the past decades.

He quotes from “Rise of The Creative Class” by Richard Florida, which focuses on the ability of cities to attract creative professionals as a key economic driver, but on the other hand would discourage local cities like Johnstown, Gloversville and Amsterdam from trying to do this on their own.

Finally, let’s call this article out for what it most likely is – a recommendation against voting for Johnstown mayoral candidate Michael Julius who has been outspokenly resistant to the idea of consolidation between the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville.

And that’s kinda funny because in my view Johnstown is one of the best examples in the Fulton/Montgomery area of the type of livable community that Swanger claims to be in favor of. Is it any wonder that city residents and leaders might want to preserve that?

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Voters in the Village of Corinth voted 338-209 last Tuesday against dissolving the village and being absorbed by the town. Doing some reading on the subject, I’ve found some very interesting points to share which should help us better understand the complexity of the dissolution/consolidation process and how it could possibly play out in our own region.

Studies of dissolution options showed that while village residents may have realized an annual tax savings of between $145 to $242 (per $100,000 assessed value), town residents could have seen anywhere from a $48 decrease to a $137 increase. The amount of savings depended on whether a resident utilized municipal sewer and water services, and also on the availability of funds from NY State’s Aid and Incentives to Municipalities (AIM) program. AIM was designed to help communities who decide to dissolve/consolidate with additional funding. However it seems that the actual availability of these funds was so questionable, that scenarios with and without this funding had to be considered.

A key issue in this situation was whether Epcor Power LP, which is part of a large transnational corporation and operates the Curtis-Palmer Hydro plant, would discontinue certain funding that they had been providing for the village or possibly challenge their tax assessment. It appears that this was a serious concern, based on past attempts by the company and the failure of Epcor to assure the panel that it would not seek to decrease their funding. The possibility was deemed great enough to include the scenario in the study (although the language in the study seems to downplay the risk), which showed that village residents could see an annual $445  increase in taxes (per $100,000 assessed value) if Epcor was successful in reducing their funding after the dissolution.

Given all these factors, the village panel charged with studying the idea actually recommended against dissolution  in November 2010. Village officials, including the mayor, also recommended against dissolution. Nevertheless, village officials were not opposed to holding a referendum on the proposal, but they also indicated they didn’t want to rush to a vote either. However, it appears that a well-organized citizen’s group gained the necessary number of signatures to petition for a vote in January anyway.

It’s interesting to note here, that there are two types of actions that citizens can petition for – dissolution or consolidation. Since the citizen’s group petitioned for dissolution of the village, only the village was required to vote, even though it was clear that the town would be affected considerably by this action. If the referendum had passed, the town would have been forced to accept a de-facto consolidation.

So one has to wonder, what was driving this “citizen’s group” to push through this referendum given the very real possibility that dissolution would have raised taxes for both village and town residents, and the very real possibility that the greatest tax savings could end up going to a large transnational corporation?