County Begins Shared Service Plan Initiative

County Executive MaryEllen Odell at last week’s meeting.

At the behest of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Putnam County government and town and village governments are reviewing ways it can streamline services and potentially save taxpayer money.

Last Thursday, County Executive MaryEllen Odell convened a meeting with elected officials from every municipality, school district officials, county department heads and union representatives to discuss streamlining services. Cuomo included the countywide shared service initiative in the state budget that requires officials to develop a plan to get rid of duplicative services and coordinate services to enhance purchasing power.

Odell said the panel would meet about potential shared services with the hope of implementing actions that could reduce property taxes. She noted the county and towns have already shared several services in past years that saved money and put the Commission for Fiscal Vision and Accountability back to work in 2014 to brainstorm more service sharing ideas.

Because schools districts carry such a high percentage of the property tax bill for owners, Odell said school systems need to be part of conversation. She said the Commission for Fiscal Vision and Accountability looked at having one school superintendent oversee the every school system within Putnam’s borders.

“The real money is in the school districts,” Odell said, citing the schools have to deal with many unfunded mandates.

One aspect Odell elaborated on was video conferencing with court appearances for defendants responding to a lowly criminal offense. By having jailed defendants appear electronically, it could save the county money (vehicle usage, personnel use) and enhance public safety, Odell said. The state Legislature needs to pass a law that would make it a stronger possibility, she added. It’s been done on a limited basis in Putnam, Odell added.

Odell said defendants appearing over video is not denying anyone their civil rights and some defendants would prefer to not appear in person in front of the public.

“We’re shovel ready for electronic court appearances,” Odell noted.

The initial shared service plan needs to be developed and submitted by the county Legislature by Aug 1. Then the plan needs to finalize before Sep. 15 and then have public hearings held. The panel will vote on the plan and if approved, it would go up to New York State. If the panel doesn’t vote on anything or votes against it, Odell will need to give residents the proposals that were put forth and the vote of each panel member and the reason for their vote.

Sheriff Don Smith said during the meeting law enforcement has worked together, including a joint tactical team and having the sheriff’s office pick up a sector in the Town of Carmel, working with their local department.

He said video conferencing would not violate the rights of any defendants’ rights and has been tested by the county in the past.

State Senator Terrence Murphy said there is “absolutely no penalty” if municipalities don’t implement any shared services. He said the localities and the county have already been putting in place shared services and encouraged local officials to send the state what their town or village has done prior to Cuomo’s push.

“Show him that you’ve already been saving money,” Murphy said. “Which in turn could get you money dollar-for-dollar back.”

During the question and answer portion of the meeting, several town and school officials spoke, offering their willingness to go forward with a plan. Union officials also said they were ready to discuss cost savings.

Southeast Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt asked how much the electronic conferencing would save, with Odell responding an estimate between $100,000-$200,000 each year. Eckardt then asked if the county would ever explore the elimination of county or town government, referring to the board of supervisors before the 1980s.

“Are we ever going to look at a bigger picture?” Eckardt asked.

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