What kind of government is best? Smaller? Cheaper? More accessible? More accountable? More responsive to constituent needs?
 
The question of whether a village government should exist — which the voters of Macedon will be answering yet again (and again) this week — raises a number of questions about what our priorities are, and how we want to live. These are questions that don’t break down along easy “liberal-conservative” lines — in fact, they tend to highlight exactly how much conservatives can disagree with conservatives, and liberals with liberals.
 
They are also vitally important to our future because they force us to ask:  What kind of community do we want to be?
 
There’s no question that village governments are more expensive. According to records from the Wayne County’s website, someone living in the village of Macedon will pay just over $5 per thousand of assessed value in combined town/village taxes more than someone living in the town of Macedon but outside the village. Fairport residents likewise have higher tax rates than people in Perinton who live outside the village — this is only natural because, hey, government costs money.
 
One could argue, then, that eliminating villages is naturally the conservative position, because it lowers taxes.
 
But conservatives also prefer smaller government — and “cheaper” government isn’t necessarily “smaller.” In fact, eliminating a village means putting oneself under the full auspices of a town — a larger unit of government.   A vote to eliminate a village is therefore also a vote for bigger government.
 
This is the same principle behind the United States having a bicameral legislature. On the one hand, we have senators who represent an entire state to the federal government. But we also have House members who represent smaller districts within a state to that very same federal government. It would certainly be cheaper to eliminate the House of Representatives, saying it’s expensive and redundant. But each person in the state, by losing a House member who is specifically looking after the interests of their district, would be less well represented. There would be less government, but the government that’s now supposed to represent their interests would also be bigger (a state is a larger unit of government than a district). The founding fathers added this extra layer of government precisely because they believed that government should be as close to the people it governs as possible.  
 
That more expensive village government is easier to access and more responsive to the people who live there precisely because it is smaller. A smaller unit of governments means that people elect their neighbors to represent them, rather than a politician they read about but probably never met, and so government rarely becomes faceless. A small electorate means elections are usually locally focused — it’s much harder for outside interests to come in and take over by spending a ton of money, which is increasingly happening in larger elections all around the country.
 
Expensive government isn’t necessarily better government, but government that is cheap because it is bigger is almost always less responsive and less representative — so which is the conservative position? At least in the case of villages, the government you pay more taxes to support is actually smaller and more localized — so which is the liberal position?
 
I don’t think those labels are useful here. What’s at stake is basic question: Do you want government to be less accessible and responsive, but cheaper or more accessible and responsive — but with a higher price tag?
 
Let’s not limit that discussion to villages. Even as there is a continuing drumbeat for more government consolidation across New York — for very good reason — it’s worth asking if many of our big cities’ problems couldn’t be solved by breaking them into smaller units. Could Rochester’s intractable poverty, crime, and problem schools, be better addressed if Rochester were broken down into a cluster of small towns, each with their own supervisor and councils and school boards that answer to their their very local populations?
 
A case can be made, and it’s worth talking about. Big usually gets you economies of scale and stretches your dollar. Small usually gets you accountability. Big gets you regional planning. Small gives each neighborhood a voice.
 
What’s most important?

Benjamin Wachs archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com. Email him at Benjamin@Fiction365.com.