Hamburg voters consider ‘upsizing’ Town Board

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HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB)- “Whatever decision Hamburg voters make, I think it’s the right decision.”

Those were the closing comments of downsizing advocate, Kevin Gaughan who spoke at a League of Women Voters debate Wednesday evening, urging Hamburg voters not to redo what they did six years ago.

In 2009, Hamburg voters decided by a two to one margin to downsize their Town Board from five members to three, as a way of saving the Town about $50,000 a year.

But over the summer, some residents collected more than 500 signatures to get a referendum on the ballot which will ask voters to bring back a five member board.

As attorney Craig Bucki puts it, many resident are having ‘buyers remorse’. “A three member board has compromised deliberation, compromised government function and relies upon a faulty premise that it’s going to decrease the cost of government.”

The Town’s Budget has grown every year despite the change, but Gaughan says it has been a way for the Board to seem less like a wall of politicians. “There’s less time allocated for politicians to speak and more time for citizens to contribute. I think that’s vibrant, I think that’s exciting and that’s part of what’s turning the County around.”

Town Supervisor Steve Walters says having only himself and two Board members as the entire voting body, he can’t even talk to one of them privately without breaking the Open Meetings Law. “And then people are coming to the meetings saying why hasn’t anything been done, and we tell them because we haven’t had a board meeting.”

Laura Podkulski is a Hamburg resident who plans to vote in favor of a five member board. “There’s just not enough communication out to the public. We are not being represented properly.”

But residents like Joe Kilian think the Board is doing just fine with only three. “I see no difference. They get resolutions, they vote on them, they get through the agenda. I can’t see what the problem is.”

Hamburg is one of five towns in which voters agreed back in 2009 to reduce their town boards to only three members . Since then, two of those towns, Alden and West Seneca have held “upsizing” referendums, and both have failed. Hamburg will decide by referendum on November 3.

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