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So-called reformers gunshy about change

The defenders of the region's political status quo have gotten a boost from an unlikely source - the University at Buffalo's Regional Institute.

The institute has long noted the negative effects of the high cost of local government and is generally an advocate of reform. But you would not know it by reading the report it just released.

The report does not exactly come out and say Kevin Gaughan's efforts to get town voters to reduce the size of councils from five to three members is a bad idea. But it's not hard to read between the lines.

"Any cost savings would be negligible and must be weighed against disadvantages in representation and responsiveness," the report said.

Business First of Buffalo has this story on the report.

I caught up with Gaughan yesterday afternoon by phone just as he was reading the report. He was incredulous.

"The study shows a shocking lack of understanding of what is happening in town and village halls," he said.

'"Western New York is dying and the principal reason we are dying is because government costs too much. To suggest we should not reduce its size and cost is misguided."

He cited the findings of the comprehensive study he did several years back, starting with the number of elected officials we have here in Erie County -- 439.

That's a lot of mouths to feed.

Moreover, it's a lot of people to get in the way of reform - and that's what most of them are doing.Their self-interest involves self-preservation, which is not necessarily in the public's interest.

I asked Gaughan the question that's been on my mind for a while about his downsizing effort:

Why are you pushing to reduce the size of town councils rather than the consolidation of towns and villages, where the potential costs savings are a lot greater?

His response: Despite years of efforts, consolidation, regionalism, whatever you want to call it, had failed to gain traction. There was a need for Plan B. And Plan B is to cut the size of town councils -- a plan, I might add, that is gaining traction. Voters have approved downsizing referendums in two towns and have put three others on the ballot, including Orchard Park.

"This is the long, first essential step," he said.

OK, I get the strategy. Start with the winnable fights and go from there.

I also get the Regional Institute. I'm not sure the genesis of its study, but its slant reinforces the feeling I came away with when I dealt with some of the institute's people a couple of years ago.

I had convened a meeting of a half-dozen UB-types, including someone from the institute, in an effort to build and analyze a database that would track all government grants, subsidies and tax breaks given to companies in Erie and Niagara counties.

After an initial show of interest, the institute decided against participating (and the whole project eventually went by the wayside). When I asked why the institute didn't want in, I was essentially told that they didn't want to be involved in a project that might make it uncomfortable for individual companies, that if I planned on naming names, well, they were out of here.

In other words, they're all for reform, so long as it doesn't upset anyone.

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Local Government
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