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Projections differ on value of downsizing Town Board


Published:September 22, 2010, 12:00 AM

Updated: September 22, 2010, 6:58 AM

You can’t say the talk about downsizing the Grand Island Town Board has been one-sided.

In the five public forums held since mid-August, Town Board members showed up each time to debate Kevin P. Gaughan, the Hamburg attorney who advocates downsizing governments and has organized volunteers in the municipalities where referendums were sought.

Where elected officials elsewhere had largely declared neutrality on the issue of downsizing, Grand Island lawmakers took a definitive stand against it.

“The Grand Island officials have made themselves quite clear,” Gaughan said.

Grand Island residents will have their say Thursday, with voting between 6 a. m. and 9 p. m. at the Grand Island Fire Company, 2275 Baseline Road. They’ll respond with a simple “yes” or “no” to the following question:

“Shall the representation on the Town Board be decreased from four (4) council members to two (2) council members . . . such that the Grand Island Town Board shall be comprised of the Supervisor and two (2) council members beginning on January 1, 2012?”

“I have never worked harder for anything in my life . . . [than] on Grand Island,” Gaughan said Tuesday, before resuming his door-to-door campaign. “I have had the privilege now of visiting more than 3,000 homes — I started in April.

“My sense is, throughout Grand Island, there is broad interest in reducing government costs,” Gaughan said.

The costs in question are the total annual tabs for council members: approximately $30,380 for one who accepts single health care coverage and $38,224 for one with family coverage. The figures presented by Gaughan are based on town and state public records.

Bottom line: Town residents would save $75,000 a year by eliminating two council seats, Gaughan said.

Grand Island Supervisor Peter McMahon has a different perspective. The annual savings is 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation, he said; $10 on a property assessed at $100,000.

McMahon also offered calculations of the cost of the current Town Board.

Excluding health insurance, the annual tab for each of the four council members is $25,052. Current members contribute 25 percent toward health care coverage; one has declined coverage, while discounted premiums attributed to the others are $4,419, $8,811 and $11,784.

Concentration of power and jeopardizing the state’s Open Meetings Law are among concerns raised by Town Board members and Citizens for Local Representation, an organization that includes local political leaders.

On the issue of open meetings, they have the support of Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government.

“If there are three people on a board, a quorum is two,” he said. “Any time two out of the three get together, that is a meeting subject to the open meetings law.”

That also applies to phone calls or e-mails involving public business.

Reducing the board’s size “would hamstring the capacity of the board to do its job effectively,” Freeman said.