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MODERNIZE GOVERNMENT AND SAVE MONEY

The Town Board has acted responsibly in deciding to give Grand Islanders the opportunity in the November election to double the term of their supervisor to four years from the present two years -- and to consolidate the elected offices of the town clerk and receiver of taxes.

If voters endorse the two progressive changes in November, town supervisors would have more time to establish their public records, town government would be modernized and taxpayers would save money.

Consolidation of the elective offices of the town's receiver of taxes and town clerk would save what Supervisor Peter A. McMahon estimates to be as much as $50,000 a year. It would end duplication of functions and some equipment required by the separate offices. If approved by the voters, they will elect a new single official to head the combined operation in November 1999. That revamped office would take effect Jan. 1, 2000.

Ditto for the proposed change to lengthen the supervisor's term. The first four-year term would start Jan. 1, 2000.

With both proposals, Grand Island is joining trends among town governments around Western New York. In recent years, Amherst and Tonawanda combined their elective offices of town clerk and tax receiver. Years ago, most towns elected supervisors for two years. Today, more than half of the county's 25 towns elect their supervisors, a town's chief executive officer, to four-year terms. Lancaster voters OK'd the switch by a substantial margin last fall.

What towns have discovered is that two-year terms are too short to allow an elected official adequate time to build a record for the voters to fairly evaluate. Two-year cycles require supervisors to devote excessive time and energy to political campaigning -- time and energy better focused on government, not politics.

It is illogical for Town Board members, as in Grand Island, to serve four-year terms and the supervisor -- a higher-paid and full-time official -- to serve only two. McMahon receives a salary of about $60,000 a year.

If four-year terms hold big-city mayors, county executives, governors and presidents -- all offices shouldering broader responsibilities -- sufficiently accountable to their constituents, four-year terms are certainly adequate for supervisors.

The increased populations and economic development of these growing suburban communities like Grand Island and Amherst add to the reasons for modernizing town governments. Grand Island today is different from the Grand Island of 30 or 40 years ago.

Its town government should recognize and accommodate those basic changes. These two proposals help do that. And save taxpayers money as well.

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