Cuomo proposal on local government consolidation seems likely to pass

Thursday, May 21st, 2009 at 4:30 pm by

Back in December, State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo outlined a proposal to promote consolidation of local governments.  It was an excerise in creative leadership, reaching beyond the usual activities of his office, and won extensive praise.

During a meeting of the Governor and Legislative Leaders on Tuesday, several participants expressed support for the Attorney General’s effort.  For example, Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced that he and Assembly Republican Leader Brian Kolb would co-sponsor a bill to implement the recommendations.

Today on Long Island, Attorney General Cuomo unveiled his detailed legislative proposal and drew support from a bi-partisan cast of Suffolk County political and civic leaders.

The bill would not mandate consolidation and would not touch school districts at all.

Generally, it would streamline processes for consolidation and dissolution.  It would allow procedures to be started either by local governing bodies, or by voter petitions.

Special districts, such as fire or water districts could be consolidated or dissolved by action of their boards, while action involving towns and villages would require approval voters in the affected communities.

It would also authorize court involvement to overcome the resistance of recalcitrant local governments.

It would also operationalize the authority that counties have under the state constitution to reorganize and abolish local governments within their borders, subject to voter approval.

We have observed for sometime that local governments need what school districts have — incentives for consolidation and mechanisms to share services, like BOCES.

Although school district consolidation has often produced disappointing upfront results in savings for taxpayers, superintendents in some regions are aggressive proponents, seeing it as essential to maintaining viable school systems in the face of steep enrollment declines.

Currently, the Education Law does not provide for petition-intitated referenda on school consolidation, as the Attorney General’s bill would authorize for local governments.  But my sense is that school district leaders tend to be ahead of their communities in recognizing the potential value of mergers.

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