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Community Conversation Continues on Modernizing Local Government

Scott Willis

Onondaga County residents are being asked to engage in a community conversation about the future of local governments.  A commission on government modernization called Consensus is holding the next in a series of presentations Tuesday, March 24th in DeWitt.  Onondaga County is the first in the state to undertake a baseline review of government structure, their costs, and the nature and extent of services provided to residents.  
Chair of public engagement with Consensus Melanie Littlejohn knows the concept is not new, but the report is intended to continue the conversation. 

"What's different is now we have the data from every jurisdiction within the county.  It's clear, it's concise, and will help us shape and think about what we might need to do.  Are there more opportunities to share services like the city and county have done."

The volume of information gathered and presented can be overwhelming.  Joseph Stefko is with the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, which compiled the data during most of last year.  He says there are a range of approaches for governing and delivering services.

"The commission's goal from this point in the process forward is to examine that range of options objectively from the informal handshake agreements that are in place in a lot of communities already in Onondaga County to higher up the pyramid, looking at opportunities to further share services, equipment, and information, to share facilities potentially." 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

  Consensus Commission member and Town of Salina Supervisor Mark Nicotra says the information should help make "apples to apples" comparisons.

"[It's] very difficult to do.  It's been tried before.  Everyone accounts differently for different functions of government.  So, if we can get a handle on that and see what the actual costs are between municipalities, I think we can begin to develop some economies of scale."

Joseph Stefko with the Center for Governmental Research  says while there appears to be plenty of cooperation between local governments, the best answers still appear elusive…

"The bottom line is if there were a silver bullet, every region in the state would have already embraced it, every region, every community across the country would have already embraced it."

Stefco says the numbers are not intended to be an evaluation of what’s effective or not; for instance, a higher cost for a service doesn’t mean it’s inefficient.  Tuesday night's meeting will be held at DeWitt Community Library at Shoppingtown Mall at 6:00 p.m.  The next meeting will be held Tuesday, March 31st at 6:00 p.m. at Salina Town Hall.  Future meetings and the complete baseline review can be found at, where the public is also encouraged to comment.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at