Gazette Ceases Publication: Donates Archives to LHS

In 2010, the Larchmont Gazette ceased publication. In 2011 the publishers donated all contents to the Larchmont Historical Society, which will continue to make the Gazette archives available online.

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Local Leaders Oppose State’s Consolidation Bill

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.    

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is behind a bill that would make it easier to consolidate or elminate local governments.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is behind a bill that would make it easier to consolidate or elminate local governments.

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.”

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5 comments to Local Leaders Oppose State’s Consolidation Bill

  • David Lum

    Local government leaders: smell the coffee. All these towns and villages made sense 150 years ago when it took a day’s travel to get from one town to another. Today, they are as effective in governance as the Erie Canal is for moving goods and people around New York State.

    We voters understand the game you are playing. Either step up to the reform plate, or citizens will continue to move out of NYS for states that provide full services at a fraction of the cost per citizen.

    When will local government leaders step up to the plate and initiate public hearings? When will you ask your “customers”, the voters and taxpayers, what they want?

    We can restore NYS to greatness… but we need to restructure both State and Local government to the realities of the 21st century, not the 19th century.

    Can you help us?

  • Fred Wilson

    Mr. Lum,
    Don’t de duped. This plan does nothing to reduce the costs of government. Your combined tax bill from the Village and Town is a fraction of your total bill. The main costs – over 80% – is school and county taxes. That’s what’s making people head for other pastures.

    If you have a gripe, you can speak to the Village Mayor or Town Supervisor – attend a board meeting and be heard. Good luck reaching the County Executive.

    You are right; NY is not competitive; but not because of larchmont Village and Mamaroneck Town. Because of the bloated county and state bureaucracies.

  • David Lum

    Thanks for the warning about the school system. They too need to find ways to deliver education at a cost closer to the national average, rather than 60% above the national average.
    Every decrease in costs happens one percent at a time. Can New York’s workers agree to a 2% retirement cut, as GM’s unions have done? Or could they agree to raise the retirement age by 2%, rather than age 55?
    I agree that mandates are a huge issue, but I don’t see local leaders marching to Albany, and joining citizens that are upset with unfunded mandates.

    When will our local governments realize that we’re headed down the path of California and GM with our spending, and help return our expenses per citizen to below the national average?

    Do we know how North Carolina or Virginia seem to survive well, with a fraction of the expenses per person for state and local governments? If not, we should find out.


  • Don

    If the fiscal problems affecting New York State had local origins, the legislation might make some sense. However, New York State’s worst fiscal problems largely begin and end in Albany.

    Rather than intruding into the affairs of typically well-run villages and towns, New York State would do far better to initiate a credible bipartisan effort to enact the deep structural reforms that are needed to put the State on a sustainable fiscal path. As part of that effort, the State should gradually phase out the unfunded mandates it imposes on localities in what amounts to little more than a poorly-disguised effort to evade fiscal reality.

    Clearly, some of New York’s fiscal problems are on account of the ongoing significant recession. Others result from a lack of economic diversity that led the State to rely on Wall Street for a disproportionate share of its revenue. Still others are the result of New York State’s chronic habit of borrowing through a torrent of bond issues over the past several decades.

    Fiscal reform should begin in Albany. Albany’s intrusion into local affairs is, in no way, anything close to fiscal reform.

  • Anon E Mous

    Yes, David, you’re all too correct. The conditions you describe remind one that all Ponzi schemes are doomed to eventual failure, and unless we change our ways, we will go from great to failed. Our leaders and each one of us must take responsibility for a solution.

    Sorry Don, while even some in Albany will admit to its failures, the problem begins at home. Ascribing blame to others doesn’t solve a problem. We have too many, too small, overlapping governments and taxing authorities in New York with little purpose, and on deeper inspection you might find that many of those Town and Villages are not at all well-run.