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Final Consensus report recommends merged city-county government

Ellen Abbott
Consensus co-chairs (l-r) Catherine Richardson, Neil Murphy and Jim Walsh

The Consensus Commission’s final report on government modernization for central New York is in. There are 50 recommendations that propose government consolidation in the areas of infrastructure, public safety, municipal operations and economic development. 

But the most widely discussed proposal would combine the governments of Onondaga County and Syracuse to create a brand new municipal government.

Consensus Co-chair Neil Murphy likes the name Metro Syracuse for this new government. But whatever the name, creating a new entity to deliver goods and services touches the core of what the Consensus group has been working on for the last three years.

"There’s almost 70 percent of us that live in one political jurisdiction but work in another," Murphy said. "Inherently, we are involved together. And we should not have these artificial barriers that inhibit our ability to work together.”

Consensus is proposing that voters decide whether to create this new government, made up of 29 legislative districts and four at-large seats along with an executive elected by voters. There would also be a deputy executive who would focus on the city of Syracuse. Co-chair Jim Walsh says the model they chose touches on one of the big worries many people had during several months of community input -- that a big government wouldn’t represent individuals as well as a small one. 

"Two things happen, one is county legislative districts currently are 27,000; the city councilor are 28,000; So we go to 16,000. So the ratio is better," Walsh said. "Also, we think that is more inclusive than either city and county legislatures.”

City Innovation Director Andrew Maxwell, a member of the commission and a candidate for mayor, doesn’t think a new municipal government will help Syracuse become a more equal, economically or socially successful city.

“The effort to look at new approaches to how we do local government is important," Maxwell said. "I think we need to have a discussion about it and many of things in the report are worthy of further discussion. But many people are focused on the city-county merger. It’s important and people should pay attention to it and they should be, but it frankly isn’t the right approach.”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner also blasted the concept in a statement, saying such a government is the “worst form of corporate looting” that would “doom Syracuse to eternal poverty.” The three co-chairs of Consensus Commission fired back, saying the “negativity evident in her statement does not serve the residents of Syracuse.”

Towns and villages would have the choice to opt out or in to this new government. The Consensus report identifies almost $33 million in potential annual savings from all the consolidations. The focus now is getting a referendum on the November ballot that would clear the way for a new municipal government. If voters say yes, central New Yorkers could be living in a place called Metro Syracuse in just two years.

Municipal development fund

Among the proposals in the final Consensus Commission report on modernizing government out this week, a plan to consolidate economic development activities in Onondaga County. Consensus Co-chair Jim Walsh says three recommendations would reduce competition between communities vying for business, by creating a municipal development fund.

"The idea is develop a revenue sharing plan where if there is development in the city, it benefits Clay, if there is developments in DeWitt, it benefits Solvay," Walsh said. "All the community would benefit, so everyone becomes a cheer leader for economic growth, and the competition goes away, and we’re all in this together.” 

This is a plan that is similar to a structure in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  Consensus has been working on proposals to consolidate government for three years now. 

Consensus Final Report by WRVO News on Scribd

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.