Shared-service plan roils municipalities

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Local governments will need to convene and find ways to share services this year.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made the measure a key initiative, and a version of his proposal was included in the final state budget, which was approved Sunday night.
 
The plan will require the chief executive in a county, typically the county executive, to bring together local elected leaders and come up with a plan to share government functions.
 
There's a quick turnaround: The plan must go to the county legislative body by Aug. 1, three public hearings must be held, and the plan needs final approval by Sept. 15, the law states.
If it isn't supported by the local leaders, they have go through the process again next year.
 
"You have to tighten your belt. You have to find out where you can save money, and you are going to need ways to share services," Cuomo, a Democrat, said Tuesday in Rochester.
He added, "We believe this is going to be a way to really bring democracy to bear on the issue of property taxes."
 
A report last week showed Westchester and Rockland counties pay the highest property taxes in the nation, while the Binghamton and Rochester areas pay the highest taxes compared to home values in the U.S.
 
Some local government leaders are supportive of the efforts; others have criticized it -- saying they already work together to cut costs. They said it is another effort by Cuomo to blame them for the state's high property taxes, saying he should do more to cut unfunded state mandates on them.
 
"The 'plan' is an insult to local officials across NY," Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro, a Republican, wrote Tuesday on Twitter. "We share & we save - we call it governing. NY needs to take responsibility."
Some local leaders, though, were quick to announce plans to comply with the new law.
 
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said Tuesday he's convening the first meeting of the county's shared-services panel on Thursday. The panel will include all the mayors and supervisors in the county, as well as representatives from school districts.
 
“It is important to get people in a room to discuss ways to save taxpayer money,” Garnar, a first-term Democrat, said in a statement. “The goal is to have a plan that works for everyone in Broome County.”
 
Cuomo has pushed for the initiative in the latest bid to force local governments to cut costs -- and thus cut property taxes.
 
In 2011, he shepherded through the Legislature a property-tax cap, and he has tied several property-tax rebates for homeowners to the adherence by schools and municipalities to the cap. One of the tax rebates two years ago, in fact, required all schools and municipalities to develop efficiency plans.
 
"They are trying to force us to consolidate, which are already doing, and we already submitted a plan to do that years ago, which was approved," Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who ran against Cuomo in 2014 and may do so again next year, said Monday on WGDJ-AM (1300) in Albany.
 
Lawmakers were leery of Cuomo's latest effort, but agreed to a compromise: Cuomo initially wanted the shared-services plan to go to voters in November. That did not make it in the budget amid opposition from local governments.
 
"This way you can still have the discussion, work together, think creatively and hopefully, many communities will see additional tax relief," Senate Finance Committee chairwoman Cathy Young, R-Olean, Cattaraugus County, said.
 

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