No one is certain yet what the public will embrace but recent news stories underline the fact that some kind of change in county government is coming.
First, there was Andrew Cuomo's announcement to the New York State Conservative Party two weeks ago for a proposed new law that would make such consolidation easier. Amazingly, a Democrat had to go to the Conservatives to get any reaction from lawmakers around the state.
Prior to that, Rethinking Westchester Government had been packing the house with as many as 200 people at their forums in Greenburgh, Yonkers and White Plains. We started the conversation.
Then came Assemblywoman Sandra Galef's forums throughout upper Westchester County. Though the Democrat from Ossinning had initially opposed Tom Suozzi's 4 percent tax cap on school districts, for example, following the election in November she changed her tune. So had Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who all of a sudden has started to use the words "transparency" and "accountability" in her press releases. Paulin and many other Democrats and Republicans remain quiet and on the fence on actual downsizing by elimination of the present form of county government.
If it sounds like fiscal issues have become politically correct, one should remember that both Greenburgh Town Supervisor and Yonkers City Council Joan Gronowski had preceded all these reform proposals by many months. Actually, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi had led the way two years ago.
Now former Westchester County Executive Al Del Bello has spoken on the issue -- appearing at a local panel moderated by Galef -- but is he advocating sending services locally to the county or downsizing all levels of government?
"It's low-hanging fruit," DelBello said, challenging the local officials who met at Cortlandt Town Hall to think more boldly about consolidating and eliminating bureaucracy. "Let's get it over with, and start eliminating duplication. Let's talk about the hard stuff. We, as elected officials, tend to be very timid, but the public thinks just the opposite."
"... We could and should explore the value of merging existing county governments. Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties could be combined into one super regional entity. If these county governments would be merged, we might be able to save many millions of dollars. Less administration, fewer commissioners, fewer lawmakers and savings of millions in salaries for executive and legislative branches of government, reduced expenses, etc...."
Or maybe we could eliminate the present form of county government altogether -- and go back to the old Board of Supervisors form of government that existed efficiently until the late 1960s?
Other ideas include a county manager form of government, more custodial and less heavy with costly administration. Still more radical and cost-efficient models would allow local governments the control of the services (and the tax revenue) -- with other services being handled by New York State.