Borough-ing to a Bigger Buffalo
Joel Giambra has yet again made a plea for a regional government. Itâ€™s like a good meal: Maybe you were excited the first time you had it, but now itâ€™s gotten a little stale and there isnâ€™t quite as much flavor.
We all realize what the major obstacles to a county wide regional government are: public safety (police) and schools. Letâ€™s face it, for the last 40 years, folks have relocated to the suburbs for those reasons. Since a consolidated county and municipal government means loss of local control over these quality of life issues, so it is only logical that many suburbanites would be opposed.
Understanding these objections, we need to evaluate what goals of regional government can be attained immediately: fewer duplicate government agencies, increasing the population of the city (nothing more than semantics, I know), and coordinated planning and development. But is there a mechanism for doing this?
Whatâ€™s a Borough?
We have all heard the term describing areas of New York City, but the term is used throughout the world to describe a municipal unit within a city or region with varying levels of sovereignty. Cities as diverse as London, Montreal (like most of the cities in the province of Quebec), and New York use this model to de-centralize municipal governments while engaging a larger area in regional government.
For example, the city of Londonâ€™s 32 boroughs retain much local sovereignty over things like schools and roads. In Quebec, boroughs have responsibility over things like fire, road, garbage and parks. Each county or locality that uses the borough model tailors its needs and responsibilities to best fit the regions and its political realities. Could or should Buffalo do the same?
How Could This Model be Applied?
Instead of the creation of a county regional government, a system of boroughs encompassing the city proper and directly adjacent suburbs* would create a new metropolitan area of approximately 654,000 (-ish) residents making Buffalo the 18th largest city in the U.S (-ish, again).
A new system could be nothing more than a loose confederation of boroughs, each maintaining a quasi-independent government. In order to placate critics, public safety, schools, or any other service could or could not be a shared responsibility. Local governments could be maintained or dissolved. Employee residency requirements could be retained or discontinued. The only requirement would be a shared name: Buffalo, New York.
More Government or Cost Saver?
Could such a system work here, or would it just be another layer of government? Like almost anything else, itâ€™s all in the execution. At the very least, a Borough Coordinatorâ€™s office could seek out duplicate services for consolidation, coordinate planning, public works, and economic development between municipalities, while grouping purchases, contracts and borrowing for better rates.
Other plans could include consolidating services like water, trash and public works. Or even more ambitious: Dissolve the old municipal governments altogether and reapportion the Buffalo Common Council to reflect theses new districts. At the same time, it would still be possible to maintain the local school districts and police departments. A borough systemâ€™s strength is its flexibility, both in the near term and future.
*Amherst, Cheektowaga, Kenmore, Lackawanna, Sloan, Town of Tonawanda, and West Seneca