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Real estate record and builders' guide: [v. 97, no. 2502: Articles]: February 26, 1916

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REAL. ESTATE Af>D NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 26, 1916 UNIFIED FORM OF GOVERNMENT FAVORED Home Rule and a Free Han(d For City Officers Will Redeem Town From Debt Entanglement and Excessive Taxation By WILLIAM A. PRENDERGAST, Comptroller, City of New York. T"" HE question is asked with more ■*• or less regularity whether the City of New York should have greater local authority over its own affairs, and if so what steps are necessary to obtain emancipation from enactments of the Legislature tending to interfere with the proper administration of local affairs? There is no question in my mind but that the city should have Home Rule. With this unified form of government a distinct saving in money will result because the administration can be run with a less number of employes. In some cases legislation will be neces¬ sary to reduce the forces, but still the remedy lies in that direction. Since 1899, when the first budget was made, the city population has increased 39 per cent, but the budget has grown in the same period about 104 per cent. Redeem the Town. Home rule and a free hand for the administration officers of the city will redeem the town from its entanglement of debt and excessive taxation. Under the present conditions there is no prac¬ tical way of reducing the budget. I believe that there will be a yearly in¬ crease and that 1919 will see a budget aggregating $235,000,000. If the administration and the people could agree on certain departmental con¬ solidations, I think the Legislature would grant relief. For the last six years_ the city officials have tried to find the right men for the right places, with salaries in proportion to their work. In many instances they have succeeded. I also advocate the abolition of county lines within the city. There is no pos¬ sible excuse, except piling up political patronage, for continuing a triple form of municipal government. On tbe other hand there is every reason why the busi¬ ness now conducted in five counties, separately, should be transacted more efficiently and economically in central¬ ized departments that would do away with wasteful fee systems and payroll padding. Line of Demarcation. There should be no line of demarca¬ tion between the city and county gov¬ ernments, especially as all the expense must be borne in the city budget. The city should be given the exclusive juris¬ diction over the expenditures. I have studied this situation for the last six years and have failed to find any detri¬ ment to the abolition of countv lines. I also favor the wiping out oTthe va¬ rious borough governments. One gov¬ ernment in one city is quite sufficient. It is difficult enough to get that one right, without trying to find five sep¬ arate sets of officials to do the work. This is expensive and in the final an¬ alysis the taxpayer looks only to the budget. New York is so great that most peo¬ ple do not understand her and attempt to measure her bv standards that apply to other cities. These fail utterly when subjected to the gigantic and complex problems of our city. New York is an evolution ; not a cre¬ ation._ She has developed faster than her sister cities or her parent State. The immense wealth and interests that HOX. WILLIAM A. PRENDERGAST. have settled here and her situation as a seaport and commercial capital of the country have created an individuality that is distinct and peculiar to herself. To meet the problems and obligations that go with such distinction, she should be unfettered in the management of her own affairs. This general introduction is offered to explain why an exact enumeration of all things necessary to accomplish a complete independence in local affairs might always be open to criticism, for a power granted this year, adequate to meet the problems of the present, may prove inadequate in a few years through the development of new activities. Questions Answered. .'\lways with those conditions in mind. I have endeavored to prepare answers to the questions submitted. Question 1.—What legislative enact¬ ments will be necessary to confer this (full local control of expenditures) upon the Board of Estimate and .Apportion¬ ment and the Board of Aldermen? This may be accomplished in one of two ways. First, by constitutional amendment giving to cities the organic right completely to control local affairs. Second, by legislative enactment, grant¬ ing to the citv a charter broad enough to place complete authority in the hands of local officials and then refraining from amending the charter except upon the recommendation of the local offi¬ cials in their official capacity. A very short and simple charter cre¬ ating a body corporate, defining its ter¬ ritorial limits and then conferring on a local legislative assembly complete authority to do all things necessary for the proper administration of local prob¬ lems would, I believe, accomplish the . result. Question 2.—What is the present pow¬ er of the Board of Aldermen over ex¬ penditures? Should this power be in¬ creased; if so, in what direction? Expenditures of the city are, broadly speaking, of three kinds : those author¬ ized by the annual budget, those au¬ thorized by corporate stock or long term bonds and those authorized by revenue bonds or short term notes. The power of the Board of Aldermen over budget expenditures is limited to the amount recommended by the Board of Estimate. The Board of Aldermen may reduce but may not increase the amounts recommended in the budget submitted to them. Corporate stock authorizations origi¬ nate in the Board of Estimate and on the recommendation of that Board, the Board of Aldermen may approve or re¬ ject the proposed appropriation. Rev¬ enue bonds originate in the Board of Aldermen and are recommended to the Board of Estimate, which may accept or reject the recommendations of the Board of Aldermen. Form of City Government. Whether or not this power in the Board of Aldermen should be increased raises a question that goes to the form of government in the city. The founda¬ tion upon which the Board of Aldermen was created, is the principle of popular representation. The Board of Alder¬ men is a very ancient institution. In New York it is as old as the city itself. The first official title given New York by the Nicolls Charter was "The Mayor, Aldermen and Sheriff." .As an institu¬ tion it has been a part of our local gov¬ ernment since the beginning and no in¬ stitution which has received the sanc¬ tion of centuries should be lightly con¬ sidered or whimsically derided because some of its members have invited crit¬ icism and ridicule. The Board of Alder¬ men is the local legislature and, in the¬ ory at least, is the body through which the will of the people is most directly expressed. The basis of aldermanic power is really the neighborhood sen¬ timent, the varying shades of local de¬ sire being reflected in the election of representatives familiar with the details of restricted localities and chosen as the voice of the locality in the general affairs of the city. Personnel of Board. In the past New York City has been unfortunate in the selection of repre¬ sentatives in the Board of Aldermen. That, however, cannot be justly charged against the system of popular repre¬ sentation as a political principle. If the principle is accepted as affording the most complete means of direct repre¬ sentation, and direct representation is accepted as the best means of conduct¬ ing public affairs, the powers of the Board of Aldermen should be enlarged by vesting in it exclusive legislative au¬ thority in local management. Question 3.—What i.s the present pow¬ er of the Board of Estimate and Appor¬ tionment over expenditures? The answer to the last question is an answer to this. Question 4.—How large a part of the last budget did the Board authorize? Strictly speaking, it did not authorize any part of the budget. As already ex¬ plained, the budget is the result of co¬ ordinate action. For 1916 the Board of Estimate and Apportionment recom¬ mended $212,956,177.54. The Board of