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Message is still vital Consolidation's champion faltered, but region should consider the issue

Joel Giambra is the lamest of ducks. But after he is gone, one of his favorite quacks should keep ringing in the ears of all those who have an interest in the future of Buffalo and Erie County.


The outgoing county executive said again the other day that the various government entities that now throw their overlapping blankets on the county -- 1,000 units of government covering 1,000 square miles -- should be merged into a regional government.

That goal is probably unattainable anytime soon, if at all. But lesser consolidations that increase efficiencies or reduce the overall number of governments here should be toward the top of the local agenda.

The promise, of course, is that one government is cheaper than 1,000 governments and, potentially, more efficient and responsive. Properly designed and managed, a regional government would allow fewer problems to fall between the cracks and allow various officials a lot less opportunity to blame other officials for any number of shortcomings.

Even more important than the potential to reduce the number of bureaucrats and the amount of office space, though, is the promise of creating planning and land use decision-making that would see the county as one organism, from its decaying neighborhoods to its sprawling strip malls, and come up with ways to do more for the common good.

Buffalonians can flee the city all they like, first to the inner-ring 'burbs of Cheektowaga and Amherst, thence to Orchard Park and West Seneca. The fact remains that Buffalo is the core of the region, socially and economically, and its decay cannot help but spread to its dependent stalks.

Sadly, though, the rapid growth of the suburbs does not return the favor for Buffalo. As individual towns and villages rezone land for more housing developments, more drive-through doughnut shops and more superstores, all they are doing is making the supply lines of streets, utilities, schools and public safety longer and more difficult to maintain.

Slowing such patchwork growth, and pushing investment dollars back into the parts of the city that may lack their old charm but already have public services, will do at least as much to ease the pressure on local taxpayers as would the elimination of redundant layers of administration.

Other cities and counties have merged over the years with, as far as we can tell, significant success. They include Kansas City, Kan.; Augusta, Ga.; Louisville, Ky.; and Indianapolis, Ind.

The last of those just elected as mayor a Republican businessman with no government experience, despite the fact that there are many more registered Democrats living there, on a pledge to improve local government. Sound familiar?

Perhaps Indianapolis/Marion County Mayor-elect Greg Ballard could compare notes with Erie County Executive-elect Chris Collins on the charms and pitfalls of consolidated services and governments, and we could get this process going.

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