TICONDEROGA - New York State has too many governments that cost too much money and create too much confusion.
That's the assessment of Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who has proposed new state regulations to give communities across the state the power to reform local governments.
There are 10,521 overlapping government units, providing duplicate services creating needless, wasteful bureaucracies, Cuomo said.
In Essex County alone there are 132 governments - from towns to villages to school and fire districts to water and sewer districts and more.
All these levels of government are necessary because of laws scattered throughout the Town Law, Village Law, General Municipal Law, Municipal Home Rule Law and Election Law, Cuomo said.
He has proposed a single law applicable to all local government entities, which eliminates inconsistencies and anachronisms.
"I applaud Cuomo for making this an issue," Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said. "I'm absolutely 100 percent in favor of this. Anything you can do to simplify government is a good thing."
Moriah now has eight special districts in the town, not counting the village of Port Henry and Moriah Central School District. It's in the process of forming a new water district.
It used to have more, but a decade ago it consolidated its four sewer districts into one.
"It was a time consuming and complicated process," Scozzafava said of merging districts. "It made perfect sense to do it, but the state regulations were very difficult to work around."
Scozzafava said many state laws regarding special districts and municipalities actually cost taxpayers money.
As an example, he pointed to town snowplows, which have to stop at the village of Port Henry line despite the fact village residents pay town highway taxes.
"It's illegal for a town plow to clear a village street," he said.
Ticonderoga Supervisor Bob Dedrick said he also favors simplifying local government, although he wants to see more details before supporting the Cuomo proposal.
"I would definitely like to see government made easier, but just because something is simpler it's not necessarily better," Dedrick said. "In general, though, I favor anything to make it easier for people."
Ticonderoga has 10 sewer districts, nine water districts and two fire districts in addition to the Ticonderoga Central School District.
State Sen. Betty Little, chair of the Senate Local Government Committee, said, "The state fiscal crisis is forcing every level of government to look at ways to control spending and increase efficiency. As a result, more communities are now interested in examining dissolutions and consolidations as a way to avoid property tax increases. I applaud and support Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's proactive approach to ensure state government is a better partner in these kinds of efforts."
Given the current fiscal crisis New York is facing, reorganization of some governmental entities to more efficiently provide vital services is needed, Cuomo said.
"Despite New Yorkers drowning for decades in some of the nation's highest taxes, local leaders have been blocked from reforming local government in an effort to cut government waste and reduce the tax burden," Cuomo said. "During this economic crisis, leaders have an historic opportunity to fundamentally reform this state's patchwork quilt of local government entities. These layers upon layers of taxing entities have a chokehold on state residents, and antiquated and arcane laws governing them perpetuate government inefficiency. Our goal is to reform those laws so communities, where appropriate, can reduce local government burden and reduce the cost of living in this great state."
As the state's chief legal officer, Attorney General Cuomo is often tasked with advising local governments on the laws regulating them.
"It is clear that current laws are filled with inconsistencies, and complexities making meaningful reform unattainable," he said. "It is a system almost nobody understands, least of all the people served by it. New Yorkers have the highest local tax burden in the country that dwarfs other states and far exceeds the national average. By consolidating governments and services, taxpayers could save millions of dollars annually."
Gov. David Paterson support's Cuomo's proposal.
"We need to help our working families by doing everything we can to lower the cost of government," said Paterson. "We cannot achieve real, sustainable property tax relief without addressing local government efficiency. That is why earlier this year we created the New York State Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness. I applaud Attorney General Cuomo for addressing the root cause of these inefficiencies; layers of bureaucracy that duplicate service and drive up costs to residents."
Special districts were created to assist towns facing population explosions caused by the migration of people away from cities after World War II. They were established to offer service delivery to properties in a specific area of a town. Special districts have grown dramatically since 1940.
In 1940, there were 2,000 special districts and by 2000, there were over 6,000.