FULTON COUNTY -- A Fulton County panel is preparing to file its final tax-payer Shared Services Plan with New York state by the mandated deadline of Sept. 15.
Last year Fulton County was among the counties that chose to take an extra year to craft its tax-shavings plan. In 2017 New York state mandated counties and local governments form shared services panels and look for ways to share government services and reduce the local property tax burden. New York state wanted the plans by October of 2017, but allowed counties to take an extra year if they needed it to come up with more substantial tax savings through shared government services.
Fulton County's Shared Services Panel, which includes heads of all of the municipalities in the county, has written a 26-page draft of the shared services plan, which is posted on www.fultoncountyny.gov.
The plan consists of two parts. Part one includes four projects the county can implement in 2019 and 2020, if municipalities choose to participate in them. The projects are:
• Creation of a contract assessing unit at the county level, which could provide property-assessing services to municipalities that hire the service.
• Fulton County's Smart Waters regional water and wastewater treatment system.
• Establishing collaboration between county government and local tax-collecting jurisdictions to utilize the same property-tax accounting and collection computer software application to promote efficiency.
• LED Lighting Replacement project for the towns and cities of the county.
The law mandating the Shared Services Plan also offers a one-time match of state funding equal to the net savings created by implementing the plan, but calculating those savings could be difficult. The report shows creating the contract assessing unit for the county would actually increase costs, but could save municipalities money on costly periodic revaluations.
County Administrator Jon Stead said the draft plan has several features that weren't in the progress report the panel filed with New York state last year.
"Since we did last year's [shared services process] we've been able to consummate our Smart Waters regional development agreements that we've been working on, so we were able to include that as part of our report. That wasn't in there at all last year," he said. "We have a tax collecting initiative that we're hoping that local municipalities might be able to pull off by getting together. That was a small savings, but we think there could be a lot of efficiencies by using the same tax collection software. That wasn't on there in terms of an actual project."
Stead said he believes the LED street light project has potential to save taxpayer money, but the panel won't have savings projections until it has gotten all of the street light inventory data from municipalities.
"The New York Power Authority will serve as a coordinating entity to get special discounts if all of the municipalities move toward getting LED lighting for their street lights together," Stead said. "That's going to produce big savings from what we've seen."
Part two of the Shared Services Plan draft includes more long-term goals, like the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville studying the potential savings from merging either their police or fire departments.
The last study of consolidating the departments was done in 1993 and showed the two cities could save $375,188 annually, in 1993 dollars, by merging departments, with Johnstown saving the most at $258,682 and Gloversville pocketing $108,507.
A commitment to study consolidation savings was a part of the preliminary report the panel filed last year, but no study has been commissioned by either of the Glove Cities.
"To my knowledge, neither city acted on that," Stead said.
Stead said none of the projects or recommendations in the Shared Services Plan are binding to the municipalities in Fulton County.
"There's no requirement for participation from the state's mandate on this," he said. "If anything were to require any contracting, the town and city councils will certainly have a say in the end. For instance LED lighting, if a town board were to decide they didn't want to do LED lighting they would not be in the final project."
Stead said he anticipates the Shared Services Panel will meet again in early September and will likely have a better projection of the potential savings from the LED project at that meeting.