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County could cut from top

Official: Different form of government could save money

September 5, 2010
By AMANDA WHISTLE, The Leader-Herald

As the counties struggle in what may be one of the most difficult budget years in decades, downsizing departments and staff seems inevitable to many elected officials.

However, in Montgomery County one supervisor has begun the process of looking into cutting from the top.

If the Board of Supervisors were to convert to a county legislature, with seven equal districts, that could save taxpayers about $90,000 in supervisors' salaries alone, said Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington. Not to mention the added benefits of shrinking the government and eliminating a disparity that sometimes creates a city of Amsterdam versus rural Montgomery County conflict, he said.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle

Glen Supervisor Lawrence Coddington works at his desk Friday in the town of Glen offices.

"My great belief is in downsizing government and making it as small as possible," Coddington said Friday in his town of Glen office.

Coddington's plan would create seven legislative districts that split the county's about 50,000 population into equal segments.

The districts would be reset every 10 years according to census figures.

Each legislator would have one vote; there would be no weighted system as there currently is. No county administrator or manager is required, but the position would be optional.

The plan eliminates the county's cost of paying eight supervisors a $10,000 annual salary. Coddington said it would also eliminate about 50 percent of the paperwork required for the board.

The towns would still elect supervisors, but those supervisors would oversee their towns and another elected official would oversee the county government.

"There are a lot of differing opinions and ideas [on the board] - not that that's bad - but I think a smaller group could accomplish more," Coddington said. "I think it would be more efficient."

Such an overhaul would require the supervisors to approve a resolution that would send the idea to referendum so that ultimately the voters would decide on whether to implement the change.

About a month after Coddington first introduced the idea at a Board of Supervisors General Services committee meeting, he said he's gotten positive feedback.

"People seem to be willing to talk about it," he said. "It's a good time to start because the census is being done this year and once that's done we can look into setting the districts."

Setting the districts would carry a price tag that Coddington couldn't estimate this early, but that would offset any savings in the beginning.

Though the county legislature wouldn't be able to take form until 2014 since some of the supervisors just won 4-year terms last November, Coddington said it's important to start talking about it now because switching would be a lengthy process.

He said he's been in contact with several other counties of similar size like Cortland County, which has a population of nearly 50,000 and a 19-member county legislature.

Cortland County switched from a board of supervisors after a state Supreme Court decision in 1971 that declared the county's apportionment unconstitutional.

That legislature still has a weighted voting system with eight legislators from the city of Cortland and other legislators representing two or three towns, said Jeremy Boylan, Clerk of the Cortland County Legislature.

Coddington met with Boylan and some of the other legislators in Cortland County to find out how its operations ran.

He said the Cortland County style of weighted votes could be applied to Montgomery County and would reduce the disparity in weighted votes, but he still prefers one vote to each legislator.

Coddington has been in contact with other counties that switched to legislators after the court decision including Franklin and Tioga Counties, which both also have about 50,000-resident populations.

Tioga County is looking into shrinking its legislature down to seven members instead of nine, he said.

"It takes time," Coddington said. "It's not going to happen overnight."

Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Vito "Butch" Greco, who also is Amsterdam 1st Ward supervisor, said switching to a county legislature is a "fantastic idea" that would be fairer to the county taxpayers.

"I think it's a very good way of reducing county government," Greco said. "I love the idea of less [elected officials] with one vote each."

Fulton County is one of 17 other counties in the state governed by a board of supervisors. The other 40 counties have county legislatures.

Larger populated counties like Albany County with 294,565 people and even Chemung County with 91,070 also elect county executives to oversee operations.

Both Coddington and Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said an elected executive would bring additional costs since the position would require a free-standing office with its own staff, and be unnecessary in Fulton or Montgomery County.

Stead said the Fulton County Board of Supervisors hasn't had any discussion on altering its form of government.

For now, Coddington's idea remains in the research stages. Exact costs of defining the county's districts and the type of legislature that would best fit the county still have to be identified.

He said he will likely come back to the supervisors with more information in January after the budget season.

Amanda Whistle covers Montgomery County. She can be reached by e-mail at montco@leaderherald.com

 
 

 

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