Time to hang up the buggy whip

A century and a half ago Endicott was a couple hour buggy ride from Binghamton and Vestal, across the river, was even farther. Johnson City was an experiment in welfare capitalism protected from its neighbors by imposing arches. Communities like Port Dickinson were tucked away miles from the city. Today, the entire Susquehanna Valley from Conklin to the Tioga County line and hills above it are a single urban area. Yet we persist in the quaint notion of the “Triple Cities.” Not only does this cost us taxpayers millions in redundant government but it results in unfair disparities in taxation and government services. Furthermore, the proliferation of small government agencies makes it difficult to hire and maintain the sort of professional talent a city of our size needs. Fixing this will not be easy because it will threaten dozens of petty political fiefdoms and will require significant reform of local taxation. But it can be done and, if we wish the area to have any chance to recover from deindustrialization, it must be done.

As the recent attempt to merge the Chenango and Chenango Forks school districts showed, skewed tax rates present a major barrier to consolidation. In that case, the residents of one district paid significantly higher school taxes than those of the neighboring one and so refused to approve the merger. That, of course, makes no sense. Broome County has taken a small step toward solving this problem by collecting centrally the taxes levied by the various towns. The next really crucial step is to establish a single assessment system for the entire County followed by a complete reassessment by an independent firm. Initially, equalization rates would be adjusted to keep taxes unchanged but over a period of years those would be eliminated so that everyone in the county paid taxes at the same rate.

That having been done, there would no longer be any reason not to consolidate the dozen school districts in the County into a single one. The savings in administrative costs would be huge and the school system would be able to promote specialties—music, theater, science— in different schools giving students more choices of stronger programs at a lower overall cost to the community. And don’t worry, the high schools would retain their identities, their football teams, and their competitions.

The next big step would be to separate the urban and rural parts of the County under two governments: the City of Binghamton for the first and Broome County for the rest. Public safety and public works departments would be combined at those levels. Eliminating a dozen towns, two villages, and innumerable small agencies will save taxpayers additional millions. And making Binghamton a city of some 150,000 will make it eligible for additional federal programs and give us more clout in Albany. But this must be done without taking an unfair toll on those who work for us. Seniorities must be merged so that those from one town are not penalized compared to those from another.

Finally, we need to reform our governmental systems. The notion that an elected official can manage a city or a county is outdated. Most really well-run communities have adopted some form of city/county manager system where a professional administrator is hired by the elected officials to run governmental functions. This not only offers stability and continuity to government but it greatly reduces the opportunity for corruption.

The way forward for our community is to create a modern, world-class government that can attract and retain modern businesses. The canals are gone along with the horse and buggies. Why are we holding on to government suited to that time and not to our own?


1 Response to “Time to hang up the buggy whip”

  1. 1 Christine October 5, 2015 at 19:09

    Well and thoughtfully spoken.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: