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Government Downsizing

Government Downsizing

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Government Downsizing

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  1. Government Downsizing Its Pros & Cons, the Process Behind it, & How it Would Affect the Town of Hanover By: Gregory Fox, Intern Date Submitted: 8/8/11

  2. What is government downsizing? • Reducing the number of elected officials in a community, usually from the board or legislature • Usually on the grounds of saving money & simplifying the complex local government structure of NY • Has its negative effects too, like loss of representation & stress of councilpersons’ resources • Attorney Kevin Gaughan has been an activist of government downsizing in WNY

  3. What is the process to downsize? • Referendum - direct vote of the people on an issue • Permissive referendum - local governing body may decide on its own motion to place a plan to downsize before the voters, first agreed upon by its members • Referendum on petition (more likely) – a petition is circulated among the citizens of a community & is presented to the local governing body, which is forced to put the proposal to referendum • If the referendum is voted “yes” upon by a majority, the local government must create a plan to downsize & put that plan to referendum • Matters subject to these non-mandatory referendums are usually the subject of local controversy

  4. What is the optimal board size?

  5. What do opponents of downsizing say? • Loss of representation can outweigh all the benefits • The remaining council members would have to represent more people & have a larger workload • Many fear that downsizing will concentrate too much power in the remaining board members • The monetary savings, while present, are usually minimal, only amounting to less than $4 annually per citizen or around 0.5% of total municipal expenditures

  6. What do supporters of downsizing say? • “I’ve heard people say it’s not going to save that much money, but if you have that opinion about everything, nothing’s going to change. You have to start somewhere.” • We should let people have a say in how big they want their government • We have so many elected officials bickering amongst each other that eliminating some will increase citizens’ voice in a community where population is on the decline • The remaining officials will rely more on citizens for help rather than each other (e.g. citizen committees, sharing the workload with citizens, making board meetings less “lecture-like” & more “conversation-like”)

  7. What do neutral parties of downsizing say? • “The main expenses of local governments lie not in their legislatures, but in the package of municipal services provided to community residents, businesses & visitors…& the infrastructure & staff financed to sustain these devices…If the primary community goal is to save money, legislative downsizing is insufficient, offering a cost-negligible…means to achieve it.” • Local elected officials aren’t making the biggest bucks, & are usually compensated a part-time salary for a job that they are “on call” for 24/7

  8. Kevin Gaughan • Graduate of Harvard Univ. & Georgetown Univ. Law • Unsuccessfully ran for Congress & mayor of Buffalo • Downsizing efforts successful in Hamburg, Orchard Park, West Seneca, Alden, Amherst (board supportive), & Evans, as well as the Niagara & Erie County legislatures • Unsuccessful in Sloan, Williamsville, Farnham (all dissolution votes), & Grand Island • Champions community discussions & public forums to move forward towards regionalism & innovation in local government • Currently working on a drive to downsize the state legislature

  9. How would the Town of Hanover be affected? • Representational impact • Population from the 2010 Census  7,127 • Current number of legislators  5 • Citizens per legislator BEFORE downsizing by 2  1,425 • Citizens per legislator AFTER downsizing by 2  2,376 • Cost impact* • Total municipal expenditures for 2010  $3,769,607 • Total expenditures for the entire board  $44,500 • Councilperson’s salary  $6,250 • Savings from eliminating 2 seats  $12,500 • Savings as % of total expenditures  0.33% • Savings per citizen after downsizing  $1.75 • *(Numbers do NOT include pension contributions or health care benefits, of which no officials are currently buying into)

  10. Case Study: Town of Evans • Voted 2,222 - 1,326 to downsize from 5 board members to 3 on 6/3/09 (~30% turnout) • Pop. 16,997; citizens per legislator upfrom 3,399 to 5,666; savings of $43,240, which was .34% of the 2006 budget & $2.54 per citizen • Board members note communication hassles since the law prevents two members from discussing town business without scheduling a meeting • No citizen committees; the board has not asked for help • Services provided to citizens haven’t changed • Town hall meetings aren’t showing increased attendance; the people that voted aren’t at them

  11. What should I take away from this? • “Larger legislatures are generally better able to represent diverse public opinion, respond to demands for constituent service, deliberate reflectively, tackle complex or controversial issues, & resist corruption or capture by special interest. Small legislatures are better able to operate cheaply, respond to community consensus, & handle a light workload of routine & uncontroversial issues.” • In order to downsize, a referendum vote must be initiated, either by the board (permissive referendum) or by the citizens (referendum on petition) • In the Town of Hanover, if 2 board seats were eliminated, # of citizens per legislator would increase from 1,425 to 2,376 • $12,500 would be saved annually, which is 0.33% of the total budget & $1.75 per citizen

  12. What should I take away from this? (cont’d.) • Kevin Gaughan champions lowering the number of bickering politicians in order to save taxpayers money & increase citizen participation & volunteerism in local government • Opponents argue there would be a loss of representation, a possible strain on the remaining officials’ resources, too much power concentrated in too few politicians, & only a tiny amount of money saved • Supporters argue that every bit of money saved counts, the people should be able to say how big they want their government, & lowering the number of politicians will require them to rely more on the citizens for help rather than themselves • The University at Buffalo says if it’s all about money, then look somewhere else to save, such as the services provided to citizens

  13. “…However small the republic may be, the representatives must be raised to a certain number, in order to guard against the cabals of a few; & that, however large it may be, they must be limited to a certain number, in order to guard against the confusion of a multitude.” ~James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10

  14. Sources • http://www.reformnygov.com/ A New N.Y.: Reforming Government; from the Office of the Attorney General • Local Government Handbook from the New York State Department of State • 21st Century Local Government: Report of the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency & Competitiveness • http://townofevans.com/?cat=10&paged=3 TownOfEvans.com: Government Downsizing • http://www.nysenate.gov/blogs/2009/jun/03/power-people-local-government-consolidation-bill-passes-senate NYS Senate; “Power to the People: Local Government Consolidation Bill Passes Senate” • http://www.erie.gov/newstead/pdfs/UB_Policy_Brief_Legis_Downsizing.pdf  “Sizing Up Local Legislatures”; University at Buffalo Regional Institute Policy Brief • http://www.letpeopledecide.org/default.htm Let People Decide; Kevin Gaughan’s Website

  15. Sources (cont’d.) • http://townofhanover.org/content Town of Hanover website • Town of Hanover Annual Financial Report from the fiscal year of 2010 • Reorganizational Meeting minutes; Jan. 3, 2011 • http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/2009_09_16/downsizing_brief UB Reporter; “Examining government downsizing” • http://www.buffalonews.com/city/communities/amherst/article240414.ece Buffalo News; “Amherst voters back downsized Town Board” • http://www.buffalonews.com/incoming/article157645.ece Buffalo News; “Voters downsize town boards in Evans and West Seneca” • http://www.buffalorising.com/2009/06/voters-to-settle-local-government-downsizing-debate.html Buffalo Rising; “Voters to Settle Local Government Downsizing Debate” • Federalist Paper No. 10 • http://www.buffalonews.com/city/article365666.ece  Buffalo News; “Downsizing town boards has its share of problems”

  16. Sources (cont’d.) • http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2009-11-11-political-downsizing_N.htm USA Today; “'Political downsizing' is latest weapon for voters” • http://www.blogtalkradio.com/east-aurora-live/2009/08/31/sunday-night-in-east-aurora Kevin Gaughan interview; “Sunday Night Live in East Aurora” by East Aurora Live talk radio