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Process is mapped for deciding on city-town merger

A timeline has been established for consolidating the City and the Town of Batavia by 2011, but the decision rests with 14 elected officials and slightly more than 12,000 voters.

Both municipalities have been awarded a state grant to study a merger, and a seven-member City-Town Consolidation Committee has been appointed. The Center for Governmental Research is assisting the City Council and Town Board with a months-long study.

The timeline calls for community forums in June and early July, with a draft model ready for Council and Town Board action in August.

Both City Council President Charles L. Mallow Jr. and Town Supervisor Gregory H. Post have announced their support for consolidation to combine overlapping services and ensure more-efficient and less-expensive government.

Approval of consolidation or possibly a drastic merger of services depends on majority votes by the nine-member City Council and five-member Town Board.

If they give it the green light, it will go to a Nov. 3 referendum, where the city's 8,416 and town's 3,810 registered voters will have the final say.

Any plan must meet the approval of voters in both municipalities. If either turns it down, the consolidation fails.

City Hall last week released the names of the Study Committee. They are Lynn N. Freeman, president of the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce; Sally Kuzon, assistant city manager; Steven C. Lockwood, vice president of the Genesee County Economic Development Center; Beverly Mancuso, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Genesee County; Jason R. Molino, city manager; Steven J. Mountain, Town of Batavia engineer; and Jeffrey Scott, a city resident employed as a systems analyst by a Buffalo-based firm.

A merger faces some hurdles. The city has a $10 per $1,000 assessed valuation tax rate. The town has no property levy. The city provides water and sewer services at a fee. The town has several water and sewer districts, each financed by those benefiting from the service. Some areas of the town still rely on wells and septic tanks. The city provides weekly trash and recycling pickups, while town residents must pay private contractors.

On the plus side, the City School District encompasses both the city and town. City police are connected to a communications center that serves all of Genesee County.

The town has a contract with the city for the Fire Department to handle medical emergencies. That arrangement, however, will end Sept. 1, and the future of ambulance service has not been determined.

One other potential complication: A committee has been working for several months on updating the city's more than 50-year-old charter.

John E. Roach, chairman of the group, told the Council last week that a revised charter, "with no major changes," should be ready by July for public review and a vote by city residents in November.

At least one Council member is worried about two major referendums going before voters at the same time. At-Large Councilman Frank C. Ferrando says that "to put two votes [revisions to the charter and consolidation] at the same time will be confusing to the electorate."

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