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JOINT PLANNING, COLLABORATION ARE VITAL TO REGION'S REBIRTH

As I walked down the corridor of our high school after voting against last May's budget proposal, a taxpayer stopped me and pleaded, "Hold a referendum to abolish the village." I don't think the frustrated voter had any recollection of a young candidate for councilman, who, over 20 years ago, had the audacity to propose consolidating certain town offices.

And I doubt the overtaxed individual was motivated by the ancient memory of a Ray Herman column in the Courier-Express, where that same budding politician called for the election of a mayor "who is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to bring tax relief to the villagers, even if it means moving to dissolve the village, and with it his job as mayor."

Nonetheless, what struck me about the encounter was how intertwined local and school governance had become in the consciousness of the average voter. Here we were, in a school building, as our district's voters handed the biggest margin of defeat to the largest proposed budget increase of any school system in Western New York, and a constituent asks a Town Board member to do something about the village.

Two years ago, in recognition of that interconnection, our town, village and school boards sponsored a joint proposal to study the possibilities for greater service-sharing. An application for County Regionalism grant money was prepared. Unfortunately, our plan to delve into the inner workings of our governing structures -- in order to render them more cost effective and efficient -- was rejected by a county panel in favor of other municipalities' requests.

Pressing on, our Town Board voted to borrow $1 million to build a beautiful new town library. Soon thereafter, a school renovation bond proposal was unveiled for financing, among other things, some public accessibility of the high school library just yards down the street from our town facility. Could we have met the needs of the school system and the town through comprehensive joint planning and aggressive collaboration, possibly saving tax dollars? We will never know, because the players were not brought to the table early enough.

There is a strange dichotomy at work. While modest proposals like joint planning boards or merged election districts get the cold shoulder from entrenched office holders, taxpayers are demanding even more drastic measures. The people imploring officials for bold initiatives are not professional politicians, they are ordinary citizens who have had enough of the status quo.

Meanwhile, those same part-time elected officials, with no staffs and little budget for consultant services, are asked to grapple with state mandates and policy questions confronting full-time officials from larger, more affluent municipalities. The traditional response from county government has been: We'll give you county services, but you are going to have to solve your fundamental governance questions by yourselves.

As a result, many of our best young people have left the region because we failed to figure out how to collaborate for their success.

Now, with the election of a county executive who made aggressive collaboration one of the centerpieces of his campaign, there is legitimate hope that those who succeed me in office will enjoy a new, exciting era of intermunicipal cooperation.

RICHARD L. TACZKOWSKI is leaving office after eight years on the North Collins Town and Village Boards.

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