Consolidation – an issue that last week appeared to be moving to the back burner of local politics — is now heating up in Albany. A bill (A08501) to simplify the process of eliminating or consolidating levels of local governments, proposed late last year by NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, is now gaining support in both the Assembly and the Senate. A vote is predicted for next week, and Governor David Paterson has indicated his support.
But there is no local support – at least from current political leaders in Larchmont and Mamaroneck – for a state-level initiative.
Local leaders are not yet in agreement on how to study merging departments or even levels of government. Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe said this week that she has written to the mayors of Larchmont and Mamaroneck proposing a meeting on the issue.
But both Mamaroneck Town Supervisor Valerie O’Keeffe and Larchmont Mayor Liz Feld strongly oppose state action and have each sent letters to Albany in opposition to the proposed bill. Also opposed to the bill, at least in its current form, are Senator Suzi Oppenheimer and Assemblyman George Latimer, whose districts include Larchmont and Mamaroneck.
Meanwhile, two local champions of consolidation have abruptly left the field – for reasons unrelated to the Albany action. Citing unspecified personal reasons, Tom Murphy suspended his race for Mamaroneck Town supervisor on Friday, May 22. On Thursday, May 28, he resigned from the Mamaroneck Village Board, as well.
Jim Millstein, who was backing both Mr. Murphy and consolidation, resigned from the Larchmont Village Board of Trustees on May 17 to take a position in the Obama Treasury Department.
Local Opposition to NY Consolidation Bill
The consolidation bill is being promoted by its supporters as a way to cut New York’s high property taxes. This did not persuade Ms. O’Keeffe.
”We should only be asked to support a bill like this AFTER the State takes serious and substantive action on eliminating unfunded mandates to municipalities and school districts,” she wrote to the state representatives.
Ms. Feld made similar arguments in her letter. “To make any material difference in local – and state – government budgets we need pension and health care reform and relief from unfunded New York State mandates.” She noted that Larchmont’s payroll this year was $6.9 million and its pension contributions were “a staggering $905,000.” She added, “This is unsustainable.”
Both the supervisor and mayor took umbrage at a provision of the bill that would allow a county government to initiate the dissolution of a village or town. “This is antithetical to the principle of Home Rule and defies logic,” said Ms. Feld.
Ms. O’Keeffe was less polite. This is “just an attempt on behalf of the State Legislature to deflect attention away from [the State's] failure to clean its own house and set people’s sights on peripheral and marginal actions to reduce property taxes,” she wrote.
Assemblyman Latimer is already opposed to the bill. He disagrees with its underlying premise, that town and village governments are responsible for high property taxes. He characterized local governments as “much leaner” than big cities, counties or “the state itself.”
He is not opposed to consolidations, and praised Larchmont and Mamaroneck for sharing services through, for example, the Joint Sanitation Commission and the Tri-Municipal Cable Board of Control. But, he said, “If someone from the top forces a merger, you can have a catastrophe.”
Senator Oppenheimer is not categorically opposed to the bill. However, she said, “We’re not happy with several features.” She was against allowing only 10% of the voters to initiate a referendum to consolidate or dissolve a government. “It should be more like 25%, like we have now,” she explained.
“And I wouldn’t do anything without a plan first,” she said, referring to a provision that allowed voters to authorize dissolution before details are worked out.
But, “we are working with Attorney General’s office to make changes,” she added. “I might support an improved bill.”