Local government has two basic functions.
One is to provide essential services. The other is to do it with the least financial impact on taxpayers.
It’s not always an easy row to hoe, especially with mandates from the state forcing local governments to spend money they’d rather allocate elsewhere.
But one way governments can save taxpayers money — with actual help from the state — is through sharing services with one another to reduce expenses and make government operate more efficiently.
Government is notoriously inefficient. Just look at the fact that New York has more than 3,400 active local governments and more than 4,200 taxing jurisdictions, often with borders that are indistinguishable and often seated within one another like Russian nesting dolls.
A town and the village or city it surrounds, for instance, might have separate government buildings, separate public works departments, separate administrative staff, separate police and fire departments, separate solid waste removal efforts and separate taxing authorities.
In some places like that, a town snowplow will cut through the adjacent village to get to the other side of the town without actually plowing the village streets it’s driving on.
New York also has more that 800 public school districts, again often small and again often with repeating administrative functions and educational duties.
It’s possible there could be more cooperation not only between individual school districts, but between school districts and municipal governments, such as by sharing a municipal police officer for school security.
There are so many ways governments can save taxpayers’ money, without sacrificing services and without adding staff, by simply sharing common services.
The city of Gloversville is among the local communities recently looking to revive local efforts to save taxpayers money through cooperation with other governments, hoping to take advantage of a new round of state funding available through the state Department of State.
The state put on a big push for intermunicipal cooperation back in 2017, but recent efforts have been lacking, in part due to the pandemic. But now it’s ramping up again.
It’s an initiative that other county and local governments should consider reinvesting their time and effort into.
During a city Common Council meeting earlier this month, Gloversville Mayor Vincent DeSantis noted that his office had been contacted by the state about the availability of money for intermunicipal agreements, and he was hoping to jump-start the Fulton County shared services panel created a few years ago.
According to the state Department of State, there is $225 million available as matching funds through the County-Wide Shared Services Initiative (CWSSI) in fiscal year 2021-22 to encourage and support shared services and collaborations.
The money, department spokesman Jason Gough wrote in response to an inquiry, is available to counties and local governments that submit plans for shared services.
Applications are reviewed and payments are authorized for all match-eligible savings generated from new shared services actions timely implemented in accordance with a submitted CWSSI Plan.
Each year, counties outside New York City are required to hold at least two panel meetings and three public hearings to explore ways to share services, Gough wrote.
Panel members are city and village mayors, town supervisors, county CEOs, and may also include representatives of school districts, fire districts and other designated special districts.
After meeting at least twice, each county must submit an approved CWSSI plan by Dec. 31 of that calendar year to the Department of State in order to be eligible for matching funds. New York state will then match 95% of actual savings achieved in the first year of the CWSSI.
Counties that do not submit a CWSSI plan must follow a different process outlined in the law and in our guidance document.
The state is also administering the Local Government Efficiency Grant (LGEG) program to incentivize new actions between local governments that will reduce the cost of municipal operations and modernize the delivery of local services, according to the department. The goal is to limit the growth in property taxes.
Applicants must illustrate significant commitment to project completion and clearly demonstrate through financial estimates and performance measures the long-term benefit to New York taxpayers.
For the 2021-2022 program year, about $4 million in LGE funds are available to local governments through the New York State Consolidated Funding Application (CFA).
The LGE grant program is an opportunity for eligible applicants to complement the CWSSI by helping to plan and implement projects with the highest potential return on investment and matchable savings.
County and local governments and school districts owe it to their constituents and their taxpayers to learn more about these incentives, to seek out these grants and to explore creative ways they can save money while making government more efficient and less expensive.
There’s no time like the present to start.