GOVERNOR CUOMO DROPPED THE BALL on his efforts to promote marriages. Though he prefers the term consolidation to marriage. We know what he means: shotgun weddings for municipalities.
A gentler approach would promote these marriages with consolidation counselors who offer couples advice and encouragement meant to promote municipal bliss. At this point we’ve reached the limit on how far a family newspaper should go with a metaphor like this. Fortunately, consolidation doesn’t have to be imagined. We see examples of these vows playing out in the towns and villages of Chatham and Kinderhook.
The Town of Kinderhook and the Village of Valatie share a municipal hall in the old Martin H. Glynn school building. It houses the offices of both, including Town Court, which also handles court matters for the village. There’s space for community events too. It isn’t a perfect set-up. It takes a lot of coordination and the honeymoon’s over. But residents seem to like the clarity of knowing where to find local government. If sharing has saved taxpayers any money, nobody’s crowing about the amount. But angry crowds aren’t demanding an end to this governmental co-habitation either. After initial wariness people generally get it that the benefits of consolidation emerge over the long term. It’s no quick fix.
Now consider the Village of Kinderhook, where a fire demolished the Department of Public Works building this spring. The village got an estimate for rebuilding the DPW garage plus replacing the equipment ruined by the flames. And before deciding what to do, the village also asked the town what it would cost for town workers provide village public works services.
Turns out the town’s proposal came in higher than the amount the village had budgeted for its own department. So last week the village chose to end its courtship of the town and rebuild the DPW itself. It helps that insurance will pay for much of the reconstruction and machinery, but you have to wonder whether an impartial counselor/mediator could have worked out mutually acceptable compromise for a more efficient use of village and town tax dollars.
Then there’s the ongoing saga of Tracy Memorial Village Hall in Chatham, the stately but aging headquarters of village government, Village Court and the Town Court. The spacious second-floor courtroom used by the town is inaccessible to anyone unable to climb the formal staircase. Proceedings have to be moved downstairs if someone with a disability is involved. That’s an affront to the dignity of the court let alone the people excluded from it.
The building, known as “The Tracy,” is a century old and in need of mechanical and structural repairs. The village estimates that the work will cost over $2 million: installing an elevator, making repairs and expanding the structure to accommodate 21st century office space at the rear.
The town, meanwhile, has an estimate for a plan to expand Town Hall on Route 295, a couple of miles north of the village, adding space for a courtroom and a bigger public meeting room for a bit over… $2 million.
The obvious solution is for the town and village to join forces and upgrade The Tracy along the lines of the way Kinderhook and Valatie share their space, right?
Wait a minute. You mean town government has to move in with its distant cousins in the Village of Chatham? Yeeuccch!
And as Chatham Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt pointed out at a meeting between the Chatham’s Town and Village boards last week, not all town residents are “village-centric.”
To complicate matters, half the village lies in the Town of Ghent. Ghent? Outsiders? Ooooh. Cooties!
The observation about village dwellers vs. country folks has substance. Those who live in rural Old Chatham, East Chatham, North Chatham or Chatham Center, for instance, see their needs for town services as being just as important as the needs of village residents. It’s understandable that they would be wary of moving the seat of town government into metropolitan Chatham. They believe the move would make town government village-centric at their expense.
That attitude overlooks the long, well documented list of reasons for using The Tracy as Town and Village Hall, expanding, upgrading and repairing this exceptional structure in the process. Too bad the parties aren’t deeply in love. Instead their affection is clouded by political and cultural issues that threaten this worthwhile union. Meanwhile the state, which claims to want consolidations, offers no neutral advisors who might find a way forward. Albany’s absence creates a vacuum. Only local political leadership can fill it.