Residents in the Washington County village of Salem last week did something rare in New York.
They voted themselves out of existence.
Well, they didn't really vote themselves out of existence, but rather an unnecessary and redundant layer of government out of existence.
As a result of the village dissolving and incorporating into the town of Salem, village taxpayers can expect to pay 49 percent less in taxes, while town residents will pay about 18 percent. That works out to $547 a year on a home assessed at $100,000 for village residents and $93 for town residents.
The reason they'll be able to save all this money is because they'll be able to eliminate some costly services and share others under one government instead of two.
New York has about 1,600 local governments, including counties, cities, towns and villages. It has another 695 school districts. That's a lot of government. Play a game sometime and try to name all 62 of New York's counties. Now figure that local governments and school districts make up 20 times that number.
Yet rarely do dissolution votes succeed. Only two month earlier, Salem's neighboring village of Greenwich voted against dissolving and joining the surrounding town.
Part of the reason that voters are reluctant to dissolve their local governments is that they want to retain control. Another reason is that often, there is little actual cost savings gained through dissolution alone. That's because of how complicated municipal government can be when it comes to state aid, municipal services, equipment purchases, zoning laws and infrastructure. Dissolution often results in the creation of new taxing districts to pay for services only the village has, such as lighting, reducing the potential cost savings.
While eliminating some governments can indeed save money, real savings comes from making governments more efficient by working together.
One such example occurred last month, when the communities of Gloversville and Johnstown agreed to an inter-municipal resolution that would to establish a joint Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. While the two communities have been cooperating for years, formalizing the process through a joint agreement could make the two organizations more efficient and lead to joint grants and funding that will save taxpayers real money.
Earlier this spring, Schenectady County opened a unified emergency dispatch center that will not only make dispatching of fire and police more efficient, but also save an estimated $673,000 each year for the communities of Schenectady, Glenville, Niskayuna and Rotterdam.
The village of Scotia and the town of Glenville earlier this year considered merging their courts, until Scotia officials nixed the idea, saying it wouldn't generate the savings they thought it might.
It's a legitimate concern, although any kind of merger/consolidation is going to have short-term, up-front inefficiencies and costs that will be reduced in the long run, such as the future elimination of redundant positions.
Communities have to be careful not to shoot down a consolidation idea just because it won't produce immediate gratification.
If the village of Salem vote showed anything, it's that people are willing to give up an inefficient system in order to try a more efficient one that could save them money in the long run.
Whether that means dissolving a government or just coming together on existing services, local government should be actively and creatively pursuing new opportunities.