Editor, The Spotlight:
I am writing in support of the referendum to merge the Town of Bethlehem Highway Department and the Department of Public Works and eliminate the separately elected town highway superintendent. Although as The Spotlight and others have pointed out, the need for yet another special election and a single polling location is not ideal from the perspective of having the broadest possible voter participation on the referendum, the merits of the change to a consolidated public works function far outweighs the one-time transition costs of the special election.
As the chair of the 2012 Citizens’ Advisory Committee on Town Governance, I know from our work that streamlining and “rightsizing” local government is a challenge. We see that citizens want effective and efficient services but are wary of the increasing burden of higher taxes on them and their neighbors, particularly those on fixed incomes. Our committee, which did not make final recommendations to the Town Board, presented a series of options regarding election districts (e.g., a possible ward system), the number and system of appointment for town officials, and term lengths and limits. A constant theme of the report was that there are trade-offs in how we govern and in making changes to that system of governance.
However, what is clear from our report and the subsequent work of the Town Board in studying the merger of the Highway Department with the Department of Public Works, is that the trade-off in this case is well worth it. That is, while there is arguably some loss of voter accountability in not having a separately elected Highway Superintendent, both the annual budget savings (estimated by the Town to be between $180,000 and $375,000 annually) and the fact that the public works function will be strengthened through streamlined management and oversight makes it a “no-brainer” as far as citizen support should be concerned.
I applaud the Town Board for moving this issue forward and urge my fellow citizens to get behind it at the special election on April 30.
David S. Liebschutz, Bethlehem