Local leaders eye opportunities to share services

Published Jun 19, 2017 at 4:00pm

Municipal leaders across Oneida County have begun meeting to identify opportunities for shared services as part of a state-mandated effort to eliminate duplicative services and streamline local government. 

A section of the state budget passed in April requires New York counties to develop shared services plans aimed at reducing property taxes. Counties across the state have until Aug. 1 to draft a shared services plan.

The incentive for government leaders to craft such a plan is the pot of state money. Plans completed this year may be eligible for a one-time match of the net savings from new shared services implemented and achieved among multiple jurisdictions between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2018. Plans finalized next year may be eligible for a one-time match of such savings achieved by between Jan.1 and Dec. 31, 2019.

More than 35 mayors, town supervisors and other municipal representatives gathered last week at Mohawk Valley Community College in Rome for the initial meeting of the Oneida County Shared Services Panel. They will meet again June 27.

“It was a good discussion,” said Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo.

She said there are several areas where shared services might be achievable, especially for smaller towns and villages. She said small municipalities could approach the cities to discuss areas of mutual interest.

Rome and the town of Verona are in discussions over snowplowing.

The group formed four subcommittees to focus on specific areas: courts; purchasing; animal control and codes; and public works.

Lee Supervisor John Urtz, who also was among the attendees at the meeting, said afterward, “We’ll see where we go from here.”

He said he signed up to participate in committees that are reviewing potential shared services involving courts and animal control.

Urtz called the state’s shared services initiative “an effort by the current administration to be critical of municipalities,” adding “they claim they’re not efficient.” But he said it would be better “if Albany was as efficient as local towns...”

He noted that Lee already participates in some shared services with other municipalities, such as highway department equipment.

The county and local governments have long shared services to various degrees.

Regarding whether a shared services plan submitted by the county following the local group’s meetings will be acceptable to the state, Urtz said a lot will depend on state laws and regulations. He said Albany may pose “roadblocks to other things that could be done” in some cases.

“Together, I hope we can use this state-required initiative as a means to streamline our local government and save our taxpayers money,” said County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. He said he came away from the session encouraged that the group will be taking a serious look at issues, both big and small.

“That’s an interesting one,” he said of the courts subcommittee.

Picente said a driving force behind some of the areas in play involve hard-to-fill positions, especially for the smaller governments.

There are steps and guidelines counties must follow as part of the process. 

A plan, along with a certification as to the accuracy of the property tax savings, must then be submitted to the Board of Legislators by Aug. 1.

Following release of an advisory report by a majority of the legislature, Picente can modify the plan, and if so, provide an updated certification as to the accuracy of the property tax savings.

At least three public hearings must then be conducted before the plan is submitted to the county panel for approval by Sept. 15. The plan must be passed by majority vote, with each panel member stating in writing the reason for his or her vote.

However, prior to the vote, each panel member may remove any proposed action that affects their local government, with a written notice being provided to the county executive prior to the full panel’s vote.

If the plan is approved, Picente will complete it and release it to county residents and submit to the county budget director for a certification of the plan and its property tax savings plan. The county executive must then hold a public presentation of the approved plan by Oct. 15.

If the plan fails, or is not voted on, Picente must release to the public a report on the proposal that includes the vote of each panel member and the reasons for each of their votes. He must then restart the process, hitting the same target dates again in 2018.