On January 1, 2012, the Town of Seneca Falls became a unified municipality for the first time since 1831. Communities across New York State have their eye on Seneca Falls to see what lessons can be learned from the dissolution of the historic village. As the largest village to dissolve in New York State, the process and outcomes will serve as a great test case for many years to come. However, some may be prone to draw conclusions from the outcomes that aren’t warranted.
Dissolution studies in most villages are initiated by citizens or elected officials because they believe it will save them money. The most common argument is that two layers of government are more expensive than one, and eliminating a duplicate layer must produce savings that will cause a tax bill to go down. When CGR models the fiscal impact of dissolutions cost savings are typically modest, usually in the 3-10% range. This was true in Seneca Falls as projected cost savings were a little over 7% of the combined budgets. Cost savings was not what pushed the lever in favor of dissolution. Read more »
Consolidating local governments in New York is a hot topic across the state. Proponents maintain consolidation is a way to make local governments more efficient and less costly. Opponents argue that services will be cut, local representation will be lost, and savings will be minimal at best. Every week, I receive calls from local government officials across upstate asking what is involved in studying how to share or consolidate services. Almost invariably, the caller starts out by saying, “I’m not necessarily in favor of dissolving or consolidating, but I feel it is my responsibility to the taxpayers to look at every avenue to reduce our local taxes.”
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In unprecedented numbers, communities across the state are looking at the potential for consolidating government services, either through shared service agreements or outright merging of governments. Why? Because citizens have reached the point where the high cost of local taxes has motivated them to stand up and ask that governments reconsider in fundamental ways who should deliver services, and how.
Study after study makes it clear that consolidation is not a magic bullet for drastically reducing costs and can’t provide the 10% to 30% immediate savings that many taxpayers want. Rather, research suggests that consolidation realistically reduces total costs by 2% to 5%, which critics use to raise the question – why bother? Based on 10 studies over the past three years where the Center for Governmental Research examined shared services and consolidation in towns, villages, cities and school districts across New York, I suggest five reasons why consolidation should be considered.
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