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Editorial: Focusing on the wrong number in Orchard Park

They’re taking the wrong approach in Orchard Park. Instead of considering whether to increase the size of its town board to five members from the existing three, it should be considering real consolidation. So should every other village, town and city in this over-governed state.

Forget about how many politicians serve in each municipality and focus how many municipalities taxpayers are forced to support. Pare down the number of villages, cities and towns and potentially benefit from lower-cost services and – gasp – possibly lower property taxes.

Orchard Park residents will get the chance, if the petitions are validated, to vote in November to add two council positions to the board, joining Hamburg and West Seneca in returning to a five-member board.

Orchard Park became the third town to vote to reduce the size of its board in 2009. Regionalism activist Kevin Gaughan started the downsizing movement on the premise that smaller government would “save money, increase transparency and encourage more citizen involvement.”

Some current and former Orchard Park board members said it was not worth the savings which, as it turns out, may not have existed. Instead, it may have cost money. Fine. Now let’s cut to the chase and search for real savings.

In fact, doing so would get to the real point of downsizing: to show it could be done and that everyone would survive. Maybe thrive. And why not?

Look at the numbers: New York contains 932 towns and 556 villages. Not surprisingly, Erie County residents pay some of the highest local property taxes in the country. And there are fewer taxpayers than in years past to pay for the multiple layers of towns, villages and city governments.

Gaughan knew he would not be able to convince politicians to consolidate local government so he aimed for downsizing boards. It was a popular idea, even given the challenges created by significantly smaller municipal governing bodies.

With respect to the efforts to give each of these municipalities the right to these referendums to decide, a good thing, it was never truly about reducing the number of politicians but restoring the idea in people’s minds that change can occur. Not only does Gaughan respectfully disagree with adding more elected officials but the downsizing movement was meant to show that it could be done and survive and go into consolidation.

He has it right: “Until our community reduces the cost for people to own a home, raise a family or run a business, we will never recoup the hundreds of thousands of people we lost.”

Accomplishing ultimate consolidation may not happen soon, if ever, but the financial stress placed on mini-municipalities will eventually take too large a toll. It’s already happening in the City of Tonawanda and it creates a problem that only reasonable, forward-looking consolidations will solve.

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