Consensus co-founder: Government merger referendum will not be held this November

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The Consensus report detailed the savings that could be made if the Syracuse and Onondaga County governments merged.

UPDATED: Sept. 11, 2017 at 12:06 a.m.

A co-founder of the contentious citizens group Consensus said in a recent interview with The Daily Orange that there will be no referendum this November on the group’s proposed government merger recommendations.

Cornelius Murphy, who helped form the group, said Consensus members plan to wait on further addressing the issue until a new shared services panel votes on Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s state-mandated shared services plan on Wednesday.

Consensus in February released a set of final recommendations on merging the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County governments to create one legislative body.

Mahoney’s plan is a mandatory response to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new County-Wide Shared Services Initiative, which requires county leaders to submit local ideas on trimming overlapping services while proposing coordinated services in their jurisdictions.

The Consensus group and Mahoney’s shared services proposal are not related in any way, said Brian Donnelly, Mahoney’s chief of staff. Many of the ideas, though, included in Mahoney’s plan mirror recommendations made by Consensus earlier this year.

The new shared services panel includes Onondaga County officials, Syracuse officials and representatives from 19 towns, 15 villages and eight school districts in the area, said officials for Mahoney and Consensus.

Donnelly said all Onondaga County mayors are involved in the shared services review. Mahoney’s plan would merge police forces in Onondaga County, he added, and localities will essentially be sharing equipment.

Consensus representatives originally pushed to hold a referendum on consolidation this year. It would take too long, though, to get it on the ballot at this time, said Murphy, who is also a former president for the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Instead, Consensus members plan to wait until the new shared services panel votes on Mahoney’s proposal Wednesday before taking further action on the issue, Murphy said.

“(Consolidation is) unlikely to reach the voters at this point, given the strong push-back against it, coming not only from communities in the city, but also much of the suburbs,” said Grant Reeher, director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute and a political science professor in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, in an email.

Reeher moderated a debate this spring between local officials, including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, over Consensus’ merger recommendations.

Interstate 81 and its intersection with Interstate 690 near Syracuse University as seen on March 3, 2017. Photo by Wasim Ahmad.

Wasim Ahmad | Staff Photographer

Alexander Marion, a spokesman for Miner, in an email said the mayor has no comment on Mahoney’s shared services plan at this time. Miner has been vocal in her opposition to Consensus’ proposed merger.

A public hearing on Mahoney’s plan will be held Monday at 12:30 p.m. at the Oncenter in downtown Syracuse. The subsequent vote will be held Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Oncenter.

If the shared services panel votes to approve the plan, officials can move forward with the application process and the county executive’s proposal can start to take effect as early as 2018, Donnelly said.

Should the panel vote to deny Mahoney’s proposal on Wednesday, the county would have to create a different plan and restart the application process next year, Donnelly said.

Onondaga County has to show New York state proof that it will save money by consolidating services if the proposal is approved, Donnelly added. Murphy said Mahoney’s plan could save millions in government spending.

A Consensus report estimated that a city-county consolidation could yield between $8.7 million and $22.9 million in savings and the unification of services would save between $7.9 million and $9.9 million a year with the report’s recommendations.

“Those who support a consolidation do not want to set back any progress toward it by having a public vote that could decisively fail,” Reeher said, referring to a referendum this November on a Consensus’ proposed government merger.

This story has been updated with appropriate style.


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