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There’s opportunity in consolidations

Winning a million dollars and buying several beautiful homes in your all favorite locations sounds glorious to most people. That is until they start facing all those dirty toilets. Sure, hiring a team of toilet cleaners becomes an option with that much money, but toilet cleaners need supervision, which also costs money. How long before those million dollars are gone due to all that scrubbing? Wouldn’t it make more sense to buy only one reasonably sized home that meets all your needs and contains a sensible number of toilets? The same is true of governmental entities.

Most people develop a sense of pride about the community where they live, usually with good reason. That’s especially true in Chautauqua County. There are many charming small communities located here. There’s also a recognition that the population here is not increasing. That means the tax base isn’t growing either.

Rather than simply complaining about the inevitable increase in taxes to cover the costs no longer paid by residents no longer living here, why not find ways to save on the governmental services we all rely upon? Considering the sheer number of police departments, fire departments, courts, departments of public works, and school districts located in the county, streamlining governance, reducing redundancy, and increasing efficiency wherever possible makes sense. However, this can be much easier said than done.

Before proposing changes, there are things to consider. Time must be taken at the beginning to identify the overlaps, redundancies, and inefficiencies among existing governmental jurisdictions. Then, each area’s current political, legal, and administrative structures must be reviewed before considering cost-saving measures. Decisions would need to be made about whether it would be wiser to encourage more collaboration and resource-sharing between neighboring jurisdictions, consider reorganizing individual jurisdictions based on their functions and the services they provide rather than looking at geographical boundaries first, or work toward merging smaller jurisdictions into larger ones. The last option, resulting in fewer larger regional bodies, can significantly reduce duplication of services and administrative costs, leading to more effective and coordinated service delivery.

The simplest way to start could be through the work of well-organized regional task forces, intergovernmental agreements, or joint-service arrangements. In some cases, a special-purpose district, like the one formed locally for water supply, can be developed to serve a larger area better. Other new districts, such as for waste management, could also be created to address specific needs without overlapping with existing jurisdictions.

No matter what changes are considered, it’s essential to consider unique local needs, the regional environment, and the area’s demographics before and as changes are made to governmental jurisdictions.

It’s also essential to Involve citizens in the decision-making process through public forums, consultations, and referendums to ensure transparency and gain support for potential changes.

The need to identify potential barriers to jurisdictional changes by reviewing legal frameworks and constitutional provisions can also make these processes more complex. Amendments to state/provincial, or federal constitutions can sometimes be required. That’s just one reason

why everyone involved must realize that making changes to governmental jurisdictions requires strong political will and support from elected officials at all levels of government.

Finally, any changes have to make financial sense. Potential cost savings and possible additional expenses must be considered. Before anything is done, a serious study must be made of the potential impact of all proposed changes.

No matter what level of changes are agreed upon, a gradual implementation approach is often the most practical. It can minimize disruptions and allow for adjustments.

Reducing the number of jurisdictions can be a highly sensitive and contentious matter. It may impact local identities, representation, and political power. Successful implementation requires careful planning, collaboration, and a clear vision of the desired outcomes.

Many living in Chautauqua County, including those serving on the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation’s Local Economic Development committee, think there is much to be gained and a great deal of savings to be achieved by reducing the number of jurisdictions here.

Patty Hammond is Economic Development Coordinator at the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation. The Local Economic Development (LED) Initiative is a standing committee of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation (NCCF). Send comments or suggestions to Patty Hammond at phammond@nccfoundation.org

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