William Greiner, past president of the University at Buffalo, is chairman of the Greater Buffalo Commission. The 11-member commission, brought together by city and county elected leaders, was charged with creating a new model for a consolidated city-county government. Greiner discussed the commission's work.
Q: What were the specifics of the proposed merger?
A: The merger was proposed to take effect under the alternative form of county government provision of the New York State Constitution. This is, as far as we know, the one provision in New York law that would allow us to accomplish a city-county merger without having to resort to either a constitutional amendment or revision of the general laws of New York.
Under our proposal, the County of Erie would continue as a New York State county but, under our nomenclature, would be known as the the Regional City of Buffalo. As a county government, it would perform all of the functions that county governments perform in New York, and it would take on the responsibility for the municipal services formerly performed by and within the City of Buffalo.
The City of Buffalo would cease operation as a normal city. It would become a special services district of the county and within that special services district the county would perform services formerly performed by city government, such as maintenance of city streets, garbage and refuse collection and disposal. City employees responsible for those services would become county employees.
The City of Buffalo would no longer exist as an independent city, but it would maintain its taxing authority and its power to float bonds. These fiscal arrangements would assure that the residents of the municipal services district in the former City of Buffalo would pay their fair share of the cost of delivering municipal services within the old city, thus avoiding double-taxing people who live outside the city limits.
Q: Now that plans have been dropped to get the merger question on the November ballot, where do proponents of the city-county consolidation go from here?
A: We press on, but at a more measured pace. Given recent events involving county finances, we need to have a better picture of the state of the county before making final recommendations. And we believe that the voters, who will decide the issue, also need more information on that subject. We are still very committed to a process of careful review and consideration of possibilities for changes in our regional governance structures.
Q: When the effort to get the question on the ballot is resumed, how much resistance do you think this merger proposal will get?
A: Public opinion polling suggests to us that a comfortable majority of people in Buffalo are very interested in a merger of city and county. We don't know if that will hold up. But as a preliminary proposition when the polling was done, close to 60 percent in the city supported the idea of merger. Outside the city, the response was about 40 percent favorably disposed, 40 percent not and the rest undecided or uninformed.
Q: What measures have been taken to alleviate concerns over a perceived dissolution of power in the minority community?
A: In the new County (regional city) Legislature, at least six legislators would come from old Buffalo. We think that would make sure there is a fair representation from the city and would afford the opportunity for effective representation from the minority community.