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Scarsdale Manager: State Wants Village Mergers

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Scarsdale Village Manager Alfred Gatta said Thursday night that he believes the state is targeting smaller municipalities for mergers and consolidations.

Gatta's remarks came as an introduction to a public information session on his proposed 2012-13 operating budget. He and the board of trustees will hold a similar session for the village capital budget at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in the third floor meeting room in village hall.

Gatta said Gov. Andrew Cuomo's policies and actions seem to be aimed at getting smaller villages and towns throughout New York to merge or consolidate services as a means to hand out less state money.

"This public policy that is coming out of Albany, which is never articulated but which is pretty clear is to reduce the cost of local government by advancing the need to merge services," Gatta said. “To consolidate some governments and to abolish other governments, and to limit the main source of revenue that allows places like us to exist."

Scarsdale's main source, he said, accounting for 70 percent of all revenue, is the property tax.

"So if I was the governor and wanted to achieve policy objective of limiting government, merging and consolidating, I would go after the bloodline that supports these local governments – and he has, although he doesn't articulate it that way,” Gatta said.

Published reports have discussed Cuomo’s intent to reduce the number of small governments around the state. His first budget as governor included tax credits that benefit communities that consolidate governments.

Cuomo's plan has been greeted favorably by the public, Gatta said. "The unarticulated policy coming from Albany that government has to be shrunk, government has to be limited, has got a lot of support from the public. You read the papers, the governor's got 73 percent support for what he is doing."

But the village manager said he does not believe merging or consolidating with other communities is something Scarsdale residents want.

"We try to cover ourselves in this environment that's clearly defined as a shrinking environment. People refer to it as the new paradigm and they refer to it as the new normal," Gatta said. "The environment is the one that is premised on tax caps, the property tax cap, by the state of New York ... All that does is create challenges for places like Scarsdale, because we are seeking to govern ourselves and define our own quality of life, and it's very important to have self-governance to do that."

Trustee Richard Toder commented that it was possible that merging public safety with another town or village could mean giving up full ownership of the new public safety building.

"We'd still have to pay for it, but we wouldn't own it," Toder said.

Gatta added that, so far, Scarsdale has been more successful than some other villages because of its ability to get federal and state grants for capital projects to maintain infrastructure.

"If they ever start to target these grants coming in for only those who have agreed to consolidate or merge services," Gatta said. "Then we're in real trouble."

Attempts to reach officials in Eastchester and Bronxville for comment were unsuccessful.

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