As we have been writing about on this blog, and indeed as most news outlets have been doing so as well, the topic of local governmental consolidation is a priority in Albany for this state legislative session. If forced to make a prediction, I would have said that a wide majority of New Yorkers favor consolidating and merging the thousands of local governments across the state. But a new Marist Poll commissioned by the Dyson Foundation suggests that while there is certainly support for such activities, an overwhelming majority favor considering consolidation (sharing services) over merger and dissolution. In addition, the poll suggests that there are some sacred cows to be shielded from any consolidation efforts. Finally, to obtain the largest support for consolidation, New Yorkers demand results rather than just reorganization for the sake of reorganization. These results should be somewhat scrutinized because the poll found that 86 percent of the respondents had not heard anything about local government consolidation, thus leaving the door open for the state’s opinion leaders to shape the discussion going forward.
Some of the more interesting results from the poll include a showing that 45 percent of New Yorkers believe the number of local governments across the state is appropriate. While the balance of respondents wants the number of local governments to change, 10 percent want more local government. In no uncertain terms New Yorkers made clear their support for the public school system: 55 percent of the respondents believe the number of school districts across the state is at an optimum level, but of the 45 percent that believe the number of districts is not on target, 23 percent would like more school districts to be created.
The poll found that the following services have strong support for consolidation: public transportation (73 percent), road and highway maintenance (68 percent), parks and recreation (66 percent), prisons (57 percent), and public libraries (56 percent). Interestingly, New Yorkers were on the fence about consolidating police (51 percent) and fire and rescue (49 percent) services and were opposed to consolidating school districts (45 percents).
No matter how you slice the data, it is clear that to gain widespread support for consolidation efforts at the local level, such efforts must produce results. The ones that drove opinion the greatest were: improvement to the quality of local services (83 percent), increased interest by businesses to locate in the area (76 percent), lower property taxes (74 percent), and reduce the cost of providing services (68 percent). Also important were improving efficiency and eliminating redundancy. The factors driving New Yorkers to oppose consolidation efforts include losing a say in local affairs (62 percent) and increased costs (62 percent).
There are a great many more morsels of information in this poll and we have posted a link to the summary below for those of you interested in reading it. What is clear, however, is that local governments must remain on top of this issue due to the priority it is being given in Albany and, with most New Yorkers not having heard about the issue, the playing field is wide open to control the debate. With the recently enacted state budget including grants of up to $100,000 to local governments to study this issue, and up to $5 million for reaching certain performance targets, the time for local government officials to act is now. In the meantime, let us know what you think about this poll and the issue of consolidation/merger in general.