Except for five small villages in Cattaraugus County, residents in our region just are not ready to give up their most local level of governments - towns and villages.
The idea of saving money by eliminating duplicated services from towns and villages and letting the county do the work seems to get lost in the comforting sense of having local control over local services. But now along comes state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli with a straight-up study showing that, in fact, the logical and cost-efficient thing to do might be to go at issue the other way around: decentralize some county services and turn them over to towns.
His specific study of county and town highway departments shows that towns can do the work for a lot less money than can counties.
The savings might be considerable. In 2009, the study shows, Chautauqua County government spent $11,935 per lane-mile on highways. Towns spent an average of $6,414.
Yes, the county would have to contract with towns and pay them to do the work. Yes, the towns’ costs might increase a bit when they take over more heavily traveled county roads. And, yes, some will argue that shared services and the like are already under way.
We have the county partnering with town of Ellicott, for example, to buy a self-propelled chip spreader and roller. The town and village of Sherman are sharing a highway building. Examples abound of towns and villages helping each other out.
The county is, in fact, looking at how highways are maintained and how the work might be done in the most efficient and effective way.
With Chautauqua County facing an $18 million - at least - budget gap next year, they need to go further than that. The potential for savings by flat out decentralizing county highway maintenance is too obvious to ignore.
“Ulster County increased its shared service agreements with local municipalities by 500 percent in just one year. With a combination of shared services and other efficiencies, the county reduced its 2011 budget by $2.3 million. County Executive (Mike) Hein knows it can be done, and he’s doing it,” said DiNapoli last week when he announced the study.
If we have leaders in Mayville with the determination and the heart actually to make a difference, Comptroller DiNapoli’s recommendations might spur the kind of changes that are so sorely needed.