COBLESKILL — Sixteen towns and six villages have comprised Schoharie County for more than a century.
That could change.
Cobleskill Mayor Rebecca Stanton-Terk recently signed off on a study with the Center for Governmental Research to explore merging the village and eponymous town into a city — a long-considered concept driven by financial equity concerns.
The village last year received less than five percent of all sales tax distributed — $128,604 — while the county grossed $19.4 million. Given more than half of accessed properties are tax-exempt, the municipality faces a limited cash pool.
Cities in New York have more autonomy over sales tax imposition than villages and towns.
“Maybe not on paper, but [cityhood] has always kind of been in the people’s ears and certainly in previous administrations and I’ve been around a long time,” Stanton-Terk said. “and it stems back to that distribution of sales tax revenue.”
Like a number of past village leaders, Stanton-Terk has unsuccessfully crusaded against Schoharie County’s distribution system on the basis of Cobleskill’s contributions to areawide commerce. Grievances with the system led officials in 2007 to launch an early CGR study on the pros and cons of consolidation.
CGR presented several options a year later: dissolution, city consolidation, and shared services. Ultimately, officials only chose the last of the three. Two years later, the town moved administrative operations into the village municipal building on Mineral Springs Road.
Since then, Stanton-Terk believes local leaders have grown even less territorial over municipal divisions and have increasingly accepted Cobleskill’s reliance on commercial development for survival.
“The people, meaning the village and the town, simply were not ready for that amount of change,” Stanton-Terk said. “Not to say that they really understood what change would’ve happened because, obviously, we don’t know the answers to this day.”
Village officials reasons for seeking the new study are o show how a status change would impact schools, potentially negative financial caveats, and public opinion on the matter.
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The Cobleskill Times-Journal found in a poll that 45% of respondents believe city status would carry economic benefits. When Stanton-Terk announced her interest in a new CGR study earlier this summer, Facebook users expressed worries that city status would attract drug trafficking and other crime.
“In some people’s minds it means crime more than anything, which doesn’t necessarily mean that’s going to happen,” the mayor said. “We are already comparable to other cities our size in neighboring counties and we already have our share of problems without the actual status of city.”
Cobleskill Town Supervisor Werner Hampel plans to weigh in on the possibility of cityhood until CGR releases a final report and expects to base much of his analysis on Stanton-Terk’s final judgment.
Hampel believes that cityhood would likely be decided locally by a referendum vote. The designation would eventually require state approval, which hasn’t been done since the city of Rye was chartered in 1942.
Should cityhood pass, the 10,900-resident municipality would rank as the sixteenth smallest city in New York. Cobleskill would also become the state’s fifth-largest city in land mass.
Given the 31,000-square-mile area’s low population density outside current village boundaries, CGR’s 2008 report recommended establishing exemption zones for taxpayers not benefitting from area-specific services.
Additional tax dollars, Stanton-Terk said, could funnel major investments toward recreational facilities and highways. The mayor believes an additional $1.5 million could address safety concerns on Grandview Drive.
“We can’t do it without more funds,” Stanton-Terk said. “But you can see a mom pushing her baby on a stroller down or up the hill on any given day to get to the hospital, but there’s no safe, accessible way to do it.”
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-374-3047 or [email protected]
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