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Hamburg, Evans should join the momentum to upsize the town boards

A movement is underway to try and get the West Seneca Town Board back up to five members after it was reduced to three a few years ago.

For two towns in our coverage area, Hamburg and Evans, we want to see that momentum train swing through these communities and allow voters to decide if they are happy with the current three-person board set up, or believe the boards function better with two extra members.

Quite frankly, at the end of year one of the downsizing of two board members, it has been a colossal failure in the Town of Hamburg. The Town of Evans also would benefit from having five board members.

The board is already fractured with Town Supervisor Steven Walters and Councilwoman Amy Ziegler continuously at odds with Councilman Joseph Collins, but there was already an instance when government was unable to function. Back in June, with Walters away as part of an excused absence, Collins stormed out of a work session, then ultimately left for the evening saying he was not feeling well.

At that point, it had been four weeks since the previous meeting because the second meeting in May had been cancelled due to Memorial Day. Government could not function because a quorum could not be met, nearly 20 action items were not voted on that night – including the hiring of summer help – and it ended up six weeks in between regular meetings.

There are fundamental flaws in the three-person board. There is a slight savings to taxpayers, but in 2012, the Town of Hamburg operated under a nearly $40 million budget, with the savings from two less board members being somewhere around $40,000. Factor in a population of about 57,000 people and the savings would come out to less than $1 per household.

We cannot speak for all residents, but we would be happy to pay an extra dollar per year to have proper representation on the board.

Besides the miniscule savings to taxpayers, it makes government harder to function for a variety of reasons. One being that two board members cannot exchange emails or even have a cup of coffee and discuss town-related issues. Why? Because two people constitute a quorum (a majority), and this is a violation of the open meetings laws.

At this time, the towns are in the middle of putting together their 2013 budgets.

With increases in costs such as pensions, wouldn’t it make more sense to have more voices? More taxpayer watchdogs? More minds who can come up with creative ways to keep taxes from sky rocketing?

Wouldn’t that be a dollar well spent?

This year Walters did something with the budget that is a first. He included all requests from department heads in his submitted budget with the premise that he, Ziegler and Collins would work together to slash and make hard decisions as an entire board.

It becomes increasingly difficult for town boards in these difficult economic times to craft a budget that makes the town prosper without placing a heavy burden on taxpayers.

This is another reason why the extra help is needed. More voices, more ideas, more accountability by our local governments.

In November of 2013, it will be four years since voters initially approved the downsizing in Hamburg. We need to do whatever it takes to place a referendum before voters again, now that they have seen the three person boards operate, and decide if this should continue.

One of civic activist Kevin Gaughan’s motto’s is “Let The People Decide.” While we disagree on the success of this endeavor, we can agree with him on that feeling.

They decided three years ago based on a premise. Now they should be able to decide whether they feel it is working and decide, three or five?


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