By JAMES T. MADORE
June 4, 2009
ALBANY - Attempting to reduce property taxes, the State Senate Wednesday night adopted a bill streamlining the process for consolidating local governments, and the governor is expected to sign it into law.
The 46-16 vote came after the Assembly approved the bill, 118 to 26. The debates were similar, with supporters of the legislation saying it would allow citizens to strip away layers of government that increase taxes. But critics warned that counties would compel the mergers of villages and special districts, with diminished services.
Inspired by Newsday stories, the legislation was written by state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He lobbied hard for it recently to combat intense opposition from volunteer firefighters, mayors and others.
"Taxpayers may soon be truly empowered to create long overdue efficiencies in local governments and special districts," Cuomo said.
Before the Senate vote, Gov. David A. Paterson told Newsday the bill was "quite admirable," but also said, "I would be willing to take a look at some of the concerns of the local governments."
Sources close to the governor said last night he would sign the measure.
The bill seeks to shrink New York's 10,521 local governments by establishing three avenues for consolidation: a county could create a master plan, a local governing board could start the process, or residents could mount a petition drive.
Inside the gilded Senate chamber Wednesday, tempers flared during the two-hour debate as Republicanssought to change the legislation.Democrats defeated amendments that would exempt fire and library districts.
Only two of Long Island's nine senators backed the bill.
Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point) said Cuomo assured him that the pair would work together on a future amendment to address firefighters' concerns. "This is a major initiative of the attorney general and deserves our support," Foley said.
A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment.
Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the bill "empowers the voting public" to change governmental structures. He also stressed that the provisions were voluntary.
Detractors raised the specter of overbearing counties forcing the dissolution of smaller entities that are allegedly more in tune with residents' needs. "We should be talking about consolidating state government, that's where the savings lies," said Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset).
Officials at the 130,000-member Firemen's Association said they hope lawmakers keep their promise of future amendments. President Thomas J. Cuff Jr. of Levittown said, "We're disappointed the fire service wasn't excluded and the school districts were. They have so much more impact on property taxes than special districts have."
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