Roads, unquestionably, tie a community together. And no more striking example exists of the division between city and county in this community, say Democrats in the county legislature, than the lej's decision to stop pavement-marking services in the city.
"It's more evidence of the county and the suburbs basically treating the city as a third-world country surrounded by first-world communities," says Democratic legislator Chris Wilmot.
Republicans say the move, in actuality, ends special treatment for the city.
The county will no longer install and maintain road markings like stop bars and crosswalks on certain city streets. The cost-saving measure was approved in a vote straight down party lines earlier this month. It was part of the Republican amendment to the county budget.
The move applies to streets qualifying as arterials --- major thoroughfares like Winton Road and Culver Road. The county will pay for pavement-marking services on Winton Road, for example, when it travels through Brighton, but not for the portion of the road in the city.
"As soon as you cross the city line, you get disrepair," says Democratic legislator Todd Bullard. "This doesn't make sense. It does not treat city taxpayers the way towns are treated."
The city will have to either do the work itself, hire the county to do it, or hire an independent body. It will cost the city approximately $208,000 in 2004.
"It's going to have a major impact," says city spokesperson Bridgette Burch White. "We have to really study the impact because they made the decision without any input from the city."
"It's not the way you develop an era of bipartisanship," Bullard says.
All the vote really means, Republicans argue, is that now everyone pays for their own roads. The arterials are county-owned roads when they pass through the towns --- so, says the GOP, the county should pay. But when those same roads enter the city, they become city-owned streets and, Republicans say, the city should pay for them.
"It puts them on an even keel with how the towns are handled," says Republican legislator Wayne Zyra, chair of the lej's Transportation Committee. "In the towns, the county naturally stripes its own roads. When it comes to a town road, the town has to hire the county [or] they could hire an independent striper to do the striping."
"It's not our intent to cripple the city by any stretch of the imagination," he says.
Not notifying the city ahead of time was a timing issue, Zyra says. Republicans were rushing to get their amendment together before a looming deadline.
Democrats argue that the same road should be treated the same no matter which municipalities it happens to travel through. If the county does the striping on Winton Road in Brighton, they say, it should do the striping on Winton Road in the city.
"The same people use [it]," says Democratic legislator Kevin Murray. "It's just inequitable to pay for [it] differently."
More than 20 years ago, Murray says, the lej took on responsibility for the arterial roads within city limits. That included road reconstruction, paving, marking, and a whole package of comprehensive services.
"Over time, they were whittled away," he says. "This is just one more whittling away of the county's responsibility for roads. These are smaller amounts of dollars, but it's drip, drip, drip. It's death by a thousand small cuts."
Murray's recollection is backed up by Ed Doherty, the city's commissioner of environmental services.
"We've had a variety of different levels of support over the years," he says. "That level certainly has diminished substantially."
The city roads in question, Murray says, are arterials in every bit the same way county roads are. This latest service reduction, he says, will hurt the community as a whole.
"Not to be dramatic, but arterials, the model is the blood system," Murray says. "Just like the blood system is veins and arteries that hold our bodies together, the arterials are the lifeblood of our community. They're what tie our community together, literally and figuratively."
The county GOP, Murray says, seems to look for ways to unload its problems on the city.
In addition to cutting pavement-marking services, the county also cut funding for a number of city programs in the 2004 budget, including its subsidy for the city school nurse program.
"The city, being the poorest municipality, is least able to afford these cuts," Murray says. "It goes back to whether you think we're a unified community. Those things that hurt the city, hurt the broader community."
"If we don't take care of people who are in poverty, we're going to see an overflow of social problems," he adds. "Everything from crime to disorderly conduct, drugs, and everything else."