It was on a panel 20 years ago at a Government Affairs Breakfast Forum, presented by what was then called the Chenango County Chamber of Commerce, that I presented the idea to study and to move forward with the concept of government consolidation. I gave several examples of why we should consider this and I finished by saying let us move forward today with the goal that in 20 years, we would complete this mission. The thought being then that in 20 years, those in the room would no longer be involved in our local politics and we could actually get this done. Boy, was I wrong!
I was away last week and missed out on the chance to be more current with this response. For many years there have been meetings on community cooperation (you didnít dare mention consolidation) and at these meetings many of us requested a study to see if there were any potential benefits. Members of the Town of Norwich board attended those meetings and gave limited lip service to doing a study and when the opportunity was finally here, they voted with such a lack of vision it hurts.
Many of you ask why would the town ever want to join with the city because of all of the tax-free property and limited resources the city has to raise money. The main reason we should be working together is because if you live in the Town of Norwich, you are part of the greater Norwich area which includes the city. And you gain from all of the quality of life benefits that this city provides without paying anything to the city. Does your family go to church in the city, to the Y, to the hospital, to Norwich Schools, to Morrisville College, to the county fair, to the County Office Building, and to all of the events held in the tax-free city parks? I know the Town has a Wal-Mart, but if one of your kids breaks a leg you probably will pass on the Wal-Mart and be happy the city has a hospital.
It is now getting to be winter and soon I will depend on our road crews doing their usual good job of keeping roads free of snow. So, as I make my way home I will be driving on roads being taken care of by the city, then the county, then the Town of Norwich, then the Town of North Norwich, then the Town of Norwich, and finally by the Town of North Norwich once again. Do we need that many trucks, that many highway barns, and that many highway supervisors? We can consolidate schools, but we canít think of any other ways to save money.
The Fire District has been talked about for years mainly because the town pays for fire services and always feels it pays too much. But how many square feet of new retail construction has been built in the Town of Norwich in the past 10 years compared to the city? The growth has been in the town and almost always at the expense of retail jobs and sales tax revenue that use to be generated within the city. So the solution is to create a new taxing entity called a fire district? No Ė our issues are much greater than this and we should stop hiding behind water, sewer, and fire districts and really get serious.
But ... it is still not too late. Again all that was asked of the Town of Norwich was to take part in a study and to finally see what, if anything, is possible. The Norwich Town Board can still vote to support the study and to provide the leadership that we all need at this time. The funny thing is that if the city should find itself not financially viable, it could dissolve itself and then it becomes part of the Town of Norwich without any of the benefits of being a city.
Hell, Iím not worried about how the Greater Norwich Area will prosper in the years ahead, Iím worried about how it will survive. I can only hope that the Norwich Town Board will begin to worry too. A surplus in sales tax revenue does not equal good government. Be open to a much bigger picture. Discover what is possible and what can be done. I may live in the Town of North Norwich, but those city folks donít scare me. In fact, I like them.