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Thread: Buffalo-Erie County Merger

  1. #1
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    Default Buffalo-Erie County Merger

    I thought I'd create this thread to continue the issue of regionalism in Erie County upstate, as originally begun in the thread "Should NYC and NYS split into two states?" in "City Guide for New Yorkers." I find this an interesting point of debate and one worth following in the near future.

    City, suburbs split on merger issue
    By PHIL FAIRBANKS
    News Staff Reporter
    5/3/2004


    Erie County is divided, split along city and suburban lines, in its support for a merger of city and county governments, according to a Buffalo News survey of voters.

    A sampling of 702 voters across the county found 54 percent of city voters favor a merger of Buffalo and Erie County, while just 39 percent of suburban voters like the idea.

    The poll, conducted last week by Zogby International, found the county as a whole divided over County Executive Joel A. Giambra's proposal to merge the two governments. About 43 percent of all Erie County supports the idea, while 45 percent opposes it.

    But a growing city/suburban split was evident, with Buffalo residents remaining supportive of the idea.

    "I don't think it's a bad idea," said Christine Glavey of South Buffalo. "If it can help turn the city around, I think it's worth exploring."

    Giambra's opposition lies in the suburbs.

    "I don't think there's any benefit to us," said Ethel H. Rowles of the Town of Tonawanda. "It's going to cost us. Right now, the Town of Tonawanda is in great shape, a great place to live, and my taxes are reasonable. I want to keep it that way."

    The poll results reveal a significant decline in suburban support for Giambra's idea in recent years.

    In late 2001, The News did a similar survey and found 51 percent of all county voters supported the notion of a city-county merger. That figure is now down to 43 percent.

    The drop reflects suburban attitudes. The 2001 poll found 49 percent of all suburban voters favored a merger. That figure is down to 39 percent in the recent poll. The percent opposing merger is now 50 percent in the suburbs, up from 41 percent, with the rest undecided.

    City support unchanged

    City support is largely unchanged from 2001, with 54 percent supporting and 33 percent opposing the merger in both 2001 and in the recent poll.

    At the time of the 2001 survey, pollster John Zogby said it was the first time he had seen such strong support for a merger in both the city and the rest of the county.

    "Never, ever, ever have I seen numbers like this before," he said at the time.

    Not anymore.

    "Support in the suburbs seems to have soured," Zogby said of the recent poll. "The decline was perceivable."

    Zogby's latest survey, conducted Wednesday and Thursday, was based on telephone interviews with 351 city and 351 suburban residents and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent for the countywide results and a margin of error of 5.3 percent for the city and suburban results.

    In addition to gauging support for a merger, the survey asked voters if Buffalo's control board should push the idea. Again, city and suburban voters parted ways.

    Countywide, the survey found four out of every 10 voters want the state control board to encourage a city-county merger. About five out of every 10 oppose the idea.

    "I can't see how a merger would reduce redundancy," said Anthony Roman of Alden. "I think just the opposite would happen. Costs would go up. Taxes would go up."

    City resident Dorothy Parker agrees and worries that the city might lose some of its clout under a merger.

    "We have no one to speak for us now, and I think we might lose even more representation," she said.

    Many still on the fence

    Broken down along city and suburban lines, the results are far different. Half of all voters in Buffalo want the control board to play a role, while nearly half of all suburban voters oppose the idea.

    One of the exceptions is Jack Reese of Amherst. He thinks a city-county merger might help fill what he calls Buffalo's leadership void.

    "The politicians in Buffalo are like foxes watching a hen house," Reese said. "I think a merger might help."

    The poll also found a large percentage of voters - about 12 percent in the city and suburbs - still on the fence.

    "I'm not pro or con," said Carol Hoffman of Cheektowaga. "I'm still investigating."

    Despite the drop in suburban support, Giambra views the poll results as encouraging. He also suggested a political campaign pushing the merger idea would go a long way toward selling it to the public.

    "Even in a challenging new environment, with city fiscal problems in every headline, suburban support is strong," he said in a prepared statement. "City residents evidently understand this is the solution."

    Buffalo Mayor Anthony M. Masiello thinks a city-county merger may be inevitable and said he wasn't surprised by the city's strong support for the idea or its suburban opposition.

    "People in the city understand the seriousness of our problems," Masiello said of the results. "The stark reality hasn't hit the suburbanites yet."

    Gaughan organizing forum

    Regionalism advocate Kevin Gaughan offered a different take on the results. He thinks the decline in suburban support is tied specifically to Giambra's proposal for a merger of city and county governments and does not mean suburban residents would not support other types of government consolidation.

    "It's clear that Western New Yorkers want to change local government," Gaughan said of the results. "What's remains unclear is what that change will look like."

    Gaughan is organizing a public forum, scheduled for June 9 at Daemen College, that will focus on Giambra's merger idea. He also hired a local law firm, Hodgson Russ, to study the legal obstacles to a merger.

    In the past, Giambra's critics have called those hurdles insurmountable and have suggested his merger idea is a paper-thin proposal heavy on rhetoric but light on substance.

    Despite that criticism, Giambra continues to push the idea.

    "There hasn't yet been a campaign," he said, "and still the poll indicates widespread support."

  2. #2
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    Note: This information is from a pay site... if this is in violation of any laws, moderators please remove my post

    To Cut Costs, Cities Ponder
    Mergers With Counties

    By KRIS MAHER
    Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
    February 22, 2005

    With reductions in federal and state aid looming, and health-care and pension costs rising, more cities are considering mergers with surrounding counties to slash expenses and attract revenue generating economic development.

    The dozen cities exploring the option, each with populations greater than 100,000, cut across a wide swath of the nation, from Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Cleveland to Topeka, Kan. Each has a distinct economic and geographic base, but in nearly all cases escalating costs have greatly outpaced state and federal funding. Cities with heavily industrial economies have also faced dwindling tax bases due to an exodus of companies and residents. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, which together lost 71,000 jobs since 2000, also expect to lose a combined $20 million in state funds.

    "Some cities are trying to figure out how to stay alive, whereas some cities that aren't in critical shape right now are trying to figure out how to avoid that fate," says Charles Zettek Jr., director of government management services for the Center for Governmental Research, a nonprofit public policy group based in Rochester, N.Y.

    In Buffalo, for example, pensions and health-care expenses for city workers have risen 123% and 67%, respectively, over the past five years, while state aid has remained flat, according to Mayor Anthony Masiello. "There just isn't the revenue in the city," he says. A proposed Buffalo-Erie County merger could potentially save between $15 million and $30 million annually by eliminating redundant services, such as zoning and maintenance, according to Joel A. Giambra, county executive and a leading merger proponent.

    To be sure, fast-growing cities, such as Athens, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., have used mergers to streamline government as well as improve land-development and tax planning. Fairbanks, Alaska, is studying whether it should annex land to accommodate construction firms and big retailers moving in.

    On average, only 20% of merger proposals receive voter approval, according to Suzanne Leland, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina, who studied 13 city-county merger proposals, and notes that there have been a total of 35 city-county consolidations, including the first in New Orleans in 1805. Mergers have become more popular in recent decades with more than 20 occurring since 1960.

    "Consolidation has the potential to save money but it is difficult to convince voters because there is little or no guarantee," she says. Moreover, consolidation requires staff reductions, and potential layoffs. Elected officials, who have to support and approve the process, often lose their positions.

    Last fall, voters nixed mergers in Des Moines, Iowa, and Albuquerque, N.M. Rural county voters around Albuquerque feared their current services might be affected, and like voters in Des Moines, a major insurance center, didn't believe costs would be saved. City officials there are now exploring ways to combine human resource departments and save expenses by having area park departments pool purchases of chemicals to maintain golf courses and parks for a better price.

    Many business leaders also remain skeptical of the impact of consolidating governments, saying mergers don't readily create the fundamentals that attract businesses, such as universities, natural resources, ports and skilled workers.

    Often, too, it's not the multi-layered city and county tax structure that turns off business, but the state tax and regulatory system, says Andrew Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, a business development organization. "How significant is what has been recommended from a business perspective?" he asks, referring to the city-county merger. "Not very much."

    Mr. Rudnick, however, agrees that a merger could give the city and county, where manufacturers and regional service providers still predominate, a big psychological lift. Re-branding "Greater Buffalo" as the 10th-largest city in the U.S. "would show the world, and show ourselves that we are a world-class, progressive region," says the Greater Buffalo Commission's Web site.

    With regions around the world competing for resources and investment, cities can't afford to compete with neighboring regions for residents and business, says David Malone, president and CEO of Gateway Financial Group in Pittsburgh. "We can't think like that," he says. He supports a merger between Pittsburgh and Allegheny County because it will be easier to negotiate with businesses as a single entity with simplified tax and zoning rules. "From my view, it's an economic imperative," he says.

    Heavily agricultural and industrial Topeka had watched the economic turnaround of Kansas City, Kan., 40 miles to the east, after it merged with Wyandotte County in 1997. New businesses have arrived, including International Speedway Corp., whose Kansas Speedway regularly draws 100,000 spectators annually and spawned a nearby 400-acre entertainment and retail site. Speedway officials credit, in part, the merged city-county operations. "Having one layer of government to deal with facilitated the approval process," says a spokesman for International Speedway.

    Merging with nearby Shawnee County would boost Topeka's population to 170,000 from 130,000, according to Doug Kinsinger, president of the Topeka Chamber of Commerce. "It gets us over that bump of 150,000," he says.

    Write to Kris Maher at kris.maher@wsj.com

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