The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

October 10, 2013

A good try, but no dice on a merger

The Daily Star

---- — The wisdom of the old saying is undeniable.

It takes two to tango.

And when it comes to the possibility of a merger of the town and city of Oneonta, the town just doesn’t want to dance.

There are some good economic, service and other reasons why a merger might make sense. The city is all for it, but from the town’s leaders and residents’ point of view, it was hard to see what would be in it for them.

It’s not that the town didn’t give it some thought before politely declining the city’s request — and that in and of itself was quite an achievement for Mayor Dick Miller and other city suitors. The town conducted a study about the pros and cons of a merger, including a poll of town residents.

While it is widely believed that any town board member who advocates a union with the city would be tarred, feathered and then beaten savagely by an outraged populace, a surprisingly low 56 percent of residents responding to the survey said they were against a merger while 23 percent supported the idea. Twenty-one percent were unsure.

Miller said although the report’s conclusion focuses on the taxpayers’ perspective, the study was a “step forward” and confirmed economic reasons for consolidation.

“It makes the case for moving forward,” Miller said.

That was not the majority opinion in the town, however, and Miller was under no illusions about a marriage — particularly a shotgun marriage — between the two municipalities any time soon.

“Someone in the town has to pick up the ball and advance it,” he said.

But town Supervisor Robert Wood knows that anyone who picks up that ball would be tackled hard and would likely fumble.

“We gave it a good shot,” he said last week. “We’re just not ready.”

According to the Otsego County Taxation, Fees and Development Committee, the town generates 21 percent to 24 percent of the sales tax in the county. If a combined city and town were to pre-empt sales tax, the county would lose half of its current local share of sales tax revenues.

The combined municipality would have a net gain of $5.2 million and $6.2 million. The county would be out $17 million, which could result in a rise in county taxes by about 15 percent or “force the county to severely curtail services,” the “speculative at best” study said.

The realistic way to go now would seem to be to increase economic and service cooperation between the town and city without using the dread “M word.”

In this case, a slow waltz is far preferable to a fast tango.