Editorial: Shared services push bearing fruit

Great ideas coming out of forced effort by governor's office
The Schenectady County solar farm on Hetcheltown Road in Glenville.
The Schenectady County solar farm on Hetcheltown Road in Glenville.

Maybe he was too aggressive, overly optimistic and stretched the limits of his authority.

But Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems to have gotten the desired results from his push to have counties come up with plans for sharing and consolidating services as a way to save taxpayers money.

The governor earlier this year pushed for legislation to require each county to develop its own formal plan for finding tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services, sharing services and coordinating purchases.

At one point, he considered linking the allocation of state aid to the Legislature’s approval of the plan and forcing counties to put such plans up for voter approval — both strong-arm tactics that were eventually withdrawn.

So maybe it wasn’t the best way to go about persuading local governments already shouldering the burden of rising expenses, growing pension costs and a cap in their ability to raise taxes.

But the kick in the pants seems to be having the desired effect, in that it’s generating some pretty good ideas on how governments can work together to save money.

Schenectady County’s proposed plan, for instance, includes creating an intermunicipal solar energy system that would help save local governments in energy costs. It also involves combining health care coverage plans to save money. Along with allowing local governments to make small purchases through the county, installing more energy-efficient lighting in streets and buildings, and other initiatives, taxpayers could save $1.5 million a year.

In Albany County, comptroller Michael Conners is pushing an effort that came from the county’s shared services plan to offset declining sales tax revenues by having municipalities share employees. The idea is to find workers who might not have enough to do on a particular day and have them work for another municipality during the down time. The county hopes it can save $1.3 million a year.

In Suffolk County on Long Island, officials there are considering setting up a “virtual store,” where localities and school districts can rent equipment and services from one another, helping save $37 million a year.

In Ulster County, officials of the town and village of New Paltz are considering operating out of the same municipal building to save expenses on personnel and overhead.

Dutchess County’s plan includes having municipalities work together on the purchase of road materials, motor vehicle repair, website development and maintenance, sharing court facilities, establishing joint drug task forces, creating multi-municipal solar farms and consolidating law enforcement efforts.

Ulster and Dutchess also are considering a plan to expand a joint conflict defender program into Family Court, saving $70,000 a year.

These are just a handful of the ideas that have come out of the consolidation effort.

While many of them may not come to fruition or realize the full projected savings, the push from the governor’s office has forced local governments to come up some solid, creative ideas for saving taxpayers money.

If it pays off in any way, it will have been worth the effort.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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