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Guest column: Listen to municipalities on efficiencies

Guest column: Listen to municipalities on efficiencies

State must hear local concerns
Guest column: Listen to municipalities on efficiencies
A county solar farm on Hetcheltown Road in Glenville in October 2015.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

We read with great interest the Feb. 18 op-ed titled “Government Consolidation is Essential” by John Figliozzi and feel that, on behalf of our member municipalities across the state, we must set the record straight on shared services at the local level.

First and foremost, any assertion that municipal officials are averse to seeking out new efficiencies or are unwilling to implement them and save taxpayers money is inaccurate.

The fact is municipalities across the state, including here in the Capital Region, have for years aimed to operate more efficiently on behalf of the constituents they serve by seeking out partners in neighboring jurisdictions. 

This is not a new phenomenon and certainly not an idea that only just now is being implemented.\

Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks to mandate shared services as a condition of receiving local government performance aid, but we’ve been doing this for generations. 

For example, consider coordination among the towns of Scotia and Glenville, parts of Saratoga County, and the city of Schenectady to share use of the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

Or look to the new solar arrays in Rotterdam that the county wants to help local governments take advantage of to cut down on electricity costs.

Or look at SMART Waters, the infrastructure agreement in place between Fulton County and the city of Gloversville.

The goal of municipal governments is to serve the local taxpayers who live within their borders.

These shared services are one important piece of that service as we seek to rein in taxpayer costs.

The broader issue is not that local governments aren’t able or willing to work together. It’s that we must be respected and heard at the state level. 

Before our state leaders simply demand that shared services must be achieved to qualify for state aid, they must hear the voices of those who are on the front lines of serving nearly 20 million New Yorkers, from the North Fork to North Tonawanda. 

“We’re looking for a partnership,” Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, NYCOM’s first vice president, told the Daily Gazette Feb. 12. “A partnership that produces results for everyone.”

Mayor McCarthy is absolutely correct. Municipalities are willing to talk with any state leader who will listen about our consistent efforts to achieve efficiencies. We want to make it clear that local governments should be recognized for what they’ve been able to achieve — not punished because they didn’t achieve efficiencies on someone else’s timeline.

The author of the Feb. 18 op-ed correctly noted that “maintaining essential and popularly demanded services always requires more resources than we reflexively think it should.” That is why in addition to a partnership on how to best move forward with shared services initiatives, we are asking state leaders to take a hard look at the flat aid they’ve been providing us for nearly a decade. 

This is not a hollow cry from municipalities for more money that we don’t have anything important to spend on. The governor has once again proposed $715 million in unrestricted aid to municipalities this year, less than the annual increase in aid to education, which we recognize our school districts sorely need. 

To put this another way: If it’s unacceptable that the state receives roughly 80 cents in federal aid for every tax dollar it sends to Washington, why is it acceptable that local governments receive only 21 cents in aid for every dollar taxpayers send to the state coffers?

Our members have sought efficiencies. Many have achieved significant cost savings.

But without the state’s partnership and financial assistance, local officials are going to be forced to begin making the tough decisions on what essential services must be cut.

A one-size-fits-all mandated sharing program won’t solve this problem. 

Peter Baynes is the executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors. Gerry Geist is the executive director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York.

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