If you didn’t know the name of your county’s health director before March, you probably do by now. It’s a sign of the prominent and important work that local health departments are doing to track the COVID-19 pandemic and educate the public about limiting its spread.
This is only one way that local governments are responding to the novel coronavirus. Municipalities have made drastic changes in operations to protect staff and the public while continuing to pick up trash, put out fires, fix roads, hold elections, and run water and sewer systems. Local governments also have helped distribute face masks and meals to families in need. Read more »
This piece first appeared in Mid-Hudson Valley Community Profiles Viewpoints section.
New York State’s local governments were shielded from the fallout of the Great Recession but did not escape unscathed: Though federal stimulus funds postponed the pain, county government spending across the state and in the Mid-Hudson Valley has now been flat or declining for at least two years. Yet governments are under continuing pressure to find efficiencies. Read more »
Police service is often the most cherished and visible municipal service—and inevitably one of the costliest. When it comes to balancing local government costs and quality of life, law enforcement increasingly is part of the public conversation. Too often, the immediate reflex is to equate cost savings in law enforcement with compromising public safety. That need not be the case.
A dichotomy drives the challenge
First, there’s emotion involved. We like the sense of security that comes with knowing an officer is patrolling our street. Whether responding to emergencies and criminal activity or getting to know residents on a first-name basis, police form bonds and fill roles that many residents consider vital for their community. Recently I learned some youths in my own neighborhood had accosted one of my neighbors. When I found out how intimately the police officers know the community and possible perpetrators, I could turn my attention away from being fearful for my family and instead focus on community advocacy and intervention.
Second, there are dollars and cents involved. Local governments across the country are more constrained than ever by limited resources and rising costs. In New York and New Jersey, for example, pension and other negotiated benefits are driving mandated annual increases that result in many governments bumping up against their state’s 2% cap on the growth in the tax levy. Plus in New York existing police union contracts are further insulated from certain cost pressures by law (i.e., Taylor Law, Triborough Amendment) and unions can exercise a binding arbitration process that has historically produced favorable outcomes for their members.
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Evidence-based decision making is best when data are properly used, when good judgment hasn’t been trumped by bad numbers, or good numbers twisted to support an inappropriate conclusion. Just collecting data, tying it to outcomes and using it to make comparisons isn’t enough. Numbers must be accurate and they need context. Data are essential to great leaders, but numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Let’s say I wanted to invest in a technology company. Being a devoted iPhone user, I am predisposed to liking Apple products. With a few clicks of my mouse I find Apple has earnings per share (EPS) of $13.87. Is this good? I quickly search for Google and learn its EPS is at $8.75. Should I be convinced that Apple’s numbers make it a better investment?
As a good consumer I should ask: Are the metrics accurate? EPS is a well-known measure of corporate profitability and my source was reputable. Are the metrics comparable? In this case, yes, but only after I checked that the EPS numbers covered the same time period. What do the metrics tell me? They give me insight into Apple’s and Google’s profitability. Read more »
Welcome to the main event!
In this corner, leaders of cities, long accustomed to controlling their destinies! And in the other corner, state governments, anxious to protect the rest of the state from the city’s crisis! It’s a battle playing out in two major communities – Michigan’s largest city and the capital of Pennsylvania – and has the potential to rewrite the book on state/local relations.
Let’s review how we got here. Read more »
If we could redraw the map, we would never create the patchwork quilt of local governments we have now. That’s a familiar refrain among people who observe local government—and not just in NYS. But the opportunity for a complete overhaul of the current – inefficient – system in many states rarely comes along. Usually, the most that can be done is to “rearrange the furniture”.
The City and Town of Batavia, NY are an exception. They are two communities reinventing themselves. The endeavor began in 2008 when Town and City leaders launched an exploration of service sharing options. From combining highway operations to merging the police department with the County Sheriff, the municipalities looked at feasible courses of action to save money. By the end of the study, the idea of merging into one new city had captured their imaginations. Becoming one city presented the most opportunities to streamline the local governments, cut costs, enhance services and improve the communities’ image in the region. Read more »
Over the years, CGR has provided analytical guidance to countless communities exploring the issue of municipal consolidation. Of all the things that make those communities unique – their density, services, cost structure, geography and more – one aspect of the merger discussion has been omnipresent: The potential benefits or drawbacks of consolidation are very much in the eye of the beholder.
Some residents – perhaps most – focus on the dollars and cents: “What impact would consolidation have on my property taxes and, by extension, my wallet?” This is clearly understandable, especially given the current economic and fiscal environment in places like NY, NJ, OH and MA where CGR has completed such studies. Read more »
The results of village elections on March 16 cast a ray of hope that perhaps New Yorkers are finally willing to take responsibility for deciding the future of local governments across the state. In five villages, from Port Henry in the east to Randolph in the southwest, voters went to the polls to decide whether or not to dissolve their village and merge with the town. Four villages – Seneca Falls, Perrysburg, East Randolph and Randolph – chose to dissolve, while voters in Port Henry elected to keep their village government. In addition, voters in the Village of Saugerties agreed to dissolve their police department and consolidate with the town police department, and Village of Medina voters chose to abolish their court and merge with the town courts.
Read more »