Crickets. You could almost hear them chirping, metaphorically, when City of Norwich Mayor Joe Maiurano put out the call this week for other local governments to join him in talking about the dreaded “C” word – Consolidation.
For the second year in a row, the Mayor was responding to an initiative put forth by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to entice local municipalities to come up with new and innovative ways to work together – with seed money in the form of grants. And for the second year in a row, it seems highly unlikely anyone will take the Mayor up on the offer.
The word “consolidation” has been bandied about in Chenango for over two decades now, starting when absentee corporate owners began pulling up stakes in Norwich and surrounding towns and taking the heft of local jobs with them. Faced with a decimated tax base and displaced work force, everyone was forced to made due with less, and take a harder look at the services we’d still be able to provide, and the enterprises we’d be able to sustain. It was clear, even then, that the “business as usual” model wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
And here we are, 20 years later, and nothing substantive’s been done about it.
We’ll say it, because we have no particular horse in this race: Chenango County’s model of government is bloated and obsolete. For a region of 50,000-ish people, we currently support and maintain, with harder and harder-earned taxpayer dollars, 21 towns, 8 villages and 1 city. With all that comes nearly just as many municipal clerks, highway departments, fire and EMS services, police forces, water and sewer systems, tax assessors, attorneys, dog catchers, various and sundry clerical and manual laborers, and even elected officials who draw salaries. And we’re not even talking about the school system!
Duplication of services is rampant throughout Chenango County, and yet we hold on for dear life in maintaining some municipalities (offices, employees and equipment) that serve only a few hundred people. Town boundaries may have made sense in a different age, and while no one would ever want to rob a community of its identity, that doesn’t mean we should have to waste tax dollars to support it.
But whenever the “C” word is mentioned aloud, the proverbial hush falls over the crowd. Sure, a couple forward-thinking politicians might pay lip service to it, and a few might begrudgingly attend a meeting – yet ultimately nothing gets accomplished. Consolidation in any true, effective form will never happen in Chenango County unless the powers that be let go of the “me” mentality that holds them to protecting their individual fiefdoms – and their jobs.
Chenango County is too small to have government this big. Good luck, Mayor Maiurano. We sincerely hope you won’t be sitting at that table alone.