Leaders take new look at consolidation

The idea of consolidating governments within Fulton County has been kicked around for decades, with very limited results. But change may be on the horizon with some newer leaders and political candidates taking about the issue.

Some local leaders, including the Glove Cities mayors, favor some form of alternative municipal government. Whether turf wars or other politics will continue to be stumbling blocks is yet to be seen.

But it seems discussion of consolidation has been relaunched. Some people think separate governments are a waste of money and believe the cities of Gloversville and Johnstown should be combined. Others think Fulton County should be the only government for the county.

“If done correctly, I would be supportive of an all-county government,” said Johnstown Mayor Sarah Slingerland.

The idea of consolidating services such as police and fire departments among the Glove Cities and the town of Johnstown was bandied about in the early 1990s. But discussions never reached the point of combining the cities into one government.

Slingerland said she envisions a more efficient arrangement by which county government would run all local services. She said an elected county administrator position could be created.

Slingerland said she and county and city officials have had private discussions at Johnstown City Hall about some form of change in local government. But Slingerland said the discussions went “nowhere.”

“No one ever came back to us,” she said.

Slingerland, who is in her second term as Johnstown mayor, has decided not to run for re-election. The only declared candidate thus far for Johnstown mayor, Democrat Michael Julius, says he isn’t in favor of full-blown municipal consolidation.

“I do have a problem with combining the two cities,” Julius said. “I’m not interested.”

Julius said combining the two cities would result in a “no-win” situation for the city of Johnstown, which he says is in better fiscal shape than Gloversville.

“I’m not willing to take on the debt of Gloversville,” he said. “There’s no advantage to combining the two cities.”

But even though he’s not in favor of combining the cities’ two governments, or even departments within the two cities, Julius said he sees no reason why equipment, services and manpower can’t occasionally be shared between Gloversville and Johnstown.

One of the more vocal proponents of changing the municipal status quo in Fulton County in recent years has been Gloversville Mayor Dayton King.

“I’m 100 percent behind either one county government or merging the two cities,” said King, who is seeking re-election.

In recent emails copied to various local officials and reported by local media, King has weighed in on ways he wants to enhance government, including annexation of land into the city from the town of Johnstown. He would like to speed up the process of getting properties annexed. King said in Fulton County, there have been many successful annexations over the years, including land for the Johnstown Industrial Park.

“I still believe part of the problem we face is having too many elected officials,” the Gloversville mayor wrote. “Each of the towns have their supervisor representing their municipality at the county level. The two cities should have a representative from their council serve on the county board.”

King added, “A county government to run the police, fire, DPW, transit, finances would save money and almost eliminate the ‘competition’ between the municipalities. I’d like to see this put on the ballot, but believe we need to educate people about the true costs and savings or else it will get voted down, much like the school mergers have.”

Attempts at consolidation within the county have met with mixed success.

Fulton County administrators this past week startled some local officials by proposing to study consolidation the several water and sewer systems within the county into one county-run operation.

In recent years, Fulton County government has tried to get smaller, selling off the former county Residential Health Care Facility, shutting down the county nursing service and transitioning the county’s two mental health clinics to the private sector.

County officials last year had sought a $90,000 state grant to study possible consolidation of highway departments in the county, but it was rejected in October.

Republican Gloversville mayoral candidate James Handy, a former councilman-at-large, said the cities were “blindsided” by the county’s proposal to explore a unified county water-sewer operation. That surprise aside, he said, the idea of combining governments or consolidating services might be a positive move forward, especially if it involves the town of Johnstown.

“No one really likes giving up their identity,” Handy said.

Another mayoral candidate, Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Michael Ponticello, said he is very open to changes in the layout of local government. He is a former principal in the Gloversville Enlarged School District.

“I am obviously a proponent as far as any and all alternatives,” he stated. “I think it’s time to analyze and research what’s out there. I did that as a school administrator. It is my purpose. I think it’s only being responsible to the people of Gloversville to do that.”

But if elected mayor, Ponticello said, he would fight to “maintain the identity” of Gloversville.

Johnstown 4th Ward Supervisor William Waldron, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, said one county government makes sense to the taxpayers.

“From a taxpayer’s perspective, combining any kind of services is beneficial,” Waldron said.

But a total merger of all smaller governments within the county into one county government is preferred, he said.

“That would be the ultimate,” the county chairman said. “It would be saving money for the taxpayers, absolutely.”

So why doesn’t anybody do it? Waldron said the differences between Gloversville and Johnstown continue to be stark.

“I live in Johnstown, and it always seems that Johnstown is quieter about the way the city is run and things seem to be run smoother,” Waldron said.

He said the water-sewer consolidation “would be the greatest thing” to boost economic development. And he said if the cities were ever able to combine departments, such as police and fire, the end result could be very positive.

“That kind of combining of services would be fantastic,” Waldron said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected].

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