After Governor Andrew Cuomo called on counties to develop shared services plans earlier this year, 50 New York counties submitted draft plans to their policymaking bodies by Tuesday's deadline. The debate continues.
Each county outside of New York City was instructed to empower a panel to prepare a plan for sharing responsibilities among local governments contained within that county. Officials were told their plans must demonstrate new recurring property tax savings by eliminating or consolidating duplicative local government services, and they were instructed to hold a minimum of three public hearings.
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy has held one public hearing before the August 1st deadline, with two scheduled to be held later this month. "We want people's input. We've met with BOCES, we met with all the elected officials in a variety of unions to discuss how we can do something working together. We were mandated by the state of New York, I do say it is an unfunded mandate. We are mandated by the state to produce this record by September 15th and have it certified."
Shared services savings for Albany County have been pegged at $6.8 million. The draft plan includes merging the city of Albany’s records clerk positions with the county and consolidating 9-1-1 services. "We had a short window to keep it movin.' And then when the other argument is 'who certifies it?' Who certifies what the tax break is to every homeowner and business owner in that county? The logistics were just a lot but it has brought up great dialogue. We've talked about stuff that we've consolidated over the few years, the last couple years. And what we continue to work on going forward."
Not every aspect of the plan is welcome. Town of Berne Highway Superintendent Randy Bashwinger says the hilltowns have practiced "shared services" for years without a hitch. He adds he hasn't seen any proof of a claim that a consolidation of Berne’s highway department with the county DPW could save at least $151,000 annually. He believes the county plan is colored with political bias. And he worries changing could have negative impacts. "Half of our roads are dirt roads. I have 48 dirt roads in the Town of Berne. County roads are all blacktop roads, paved roads. So it's a completely different plow, a completely different materials. We have 10-foot wide roads, we have 12-foot, all the way up to 25-foot roads. County roads are usually 22 feet wide. They have white and yellow lines on them. Our roads don't have any lines on them. Our roads have rocks in the middle of them on some of the dirt roads. So you can't just throw somebody up there who has never plowed it before. We don't use pure salt. We use a sanding material and we use stone with salt into it. If we used pure salt every road, every dirt road we had would have more potholes than the whole state of New York. It's a completely different situation."
Bashwinger's crew repairs equipment in-house, and he prefers that option rather than sending machinery out to DPW in Voorheesville.
Shared services also include consolidating emergency medical services, a more popular aspect of the plan. EMS Consolidations and collaborations are working out well for several counties, including Albany and Columbia. Dutchess, Greene and Warren counties have been giving the concept a long look, eyeing savings and increased service availabilities.
Back in Albany, McCoy understands residents of some towns and villages are fearful losing their "identity" but encourages everyone to come together. "Things can work but you have to be willing. Not only does the elected official have to be willing to give up some stuff, but the people that live in that area."
County plans that are approved must be presented to the public no later than October 15th.