By Anna Young
Officials from nearly all of Putnam County’s municipalities joined County Executive MaryEllen Odell on Feb. 5 to discuss the creation of a shared services plan meant to save taxpayer money.
The meeting at the TOPS auditorium in Carmel centered on implementing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Shared Services Initiative. The initiative forces county officials to develop of plan to eliminate duplicative services and coordinate services to enhance purchasing power. Under the state’s timetable, the county requires the creation of a Shared Services Panel, a group headed by Odell consisting of every mayor or town supervisor within the county, along with other appointed and elected officials.
The Commission for Fiscal Vision and Accountability will facilitate panel discussions.
Legislator Neal Sullivan, who will chair the Commission with Legislator Ginny Nacerino, said he wants panel members to think objectively and offer ideas that are based on facts and figures to provide relief to the taxpayer.
“We want to hear the ideas from you because you’re the people who are involved every day. You know what’s going on, you know what you do already with towns, with villages, with the county, with the state, with the schools, so there’s so many things happening already so we don’t want to go and do something that’s already been done,” he said. “We want to talk about things that you think we can do now for the future.”
The commission will meet with the panel on Feb. 22.
The county did not go forward with a shared service plan last year and there was some disagreement between Odell and the six town supervisors as to why nothing was ultimately developed.
Odell proposed the county invest in a wash bay to be shared amongst the schools, highway department and police department. She said the capital expenditure would create significant benefits to local municipalities, towns and school districts, while also extending the useful life of the vehicle and protecting the environment.
She also wants to move forward with the installation of video conferencing instead of alleged criminals appearing in court. By having jailed defendants appear electronically, Odell said it could save the county money on overtime and vehicle usage while enhancing public safety. She said the initiative has gained support from Putnam County Sheriff Robert Langley, the Putnam County Bar Association, and the Putnam Legal Aid Society, among others.
Odell discussed consolidating the county tax assessors into one unit stating that shared services would result in potential savings in personnel cost to municipalities.
She also stressed the need to collaborate with the school districts to find savings, stating how both the county and schools have the same taxpayers. Odell said she has met with each superintendent and identified several areas to share services.
“The school districts, when it comes down to mandates, the county and the local municipalities and the schools are one team because I think outside of us in government the schools are dealing with as many, if not more mandates, so we have to find some common ground, so we can find savings for our taxpayers,” she said.
Susan Savage, who works with the NYS Department of State, said she has traveled to every county within the state working on the shared services initiative for the last year. She explained ways other counties have shared services.
“One of the things I hear in every county is ‘we’re already sharing services,’ and yes, we are, everyone in this room has been active in that and in nearly every county across the state,” Savage said. “What we know is that everybody is doing something, but none of us are doing everything so this provides us the opportunity to see what the next steps are.”
Legislator Sullivan stressed that the initiative is a long-term plan that will prioritize key issues. He encouraged officials to research proposals submitted by other counties and suggest ideas to help the county in their efforts
The initial shared service plan needs to be developed and submitted by the county Legislature by Aug 1. It will then be finalized before Sept. 15 and subject to at least three public hearings. The panel will vote on the plan and if approved it, it would go up to New York State. If the plan fails or is not voted on, Odell would need to provide residents the proposals that were put forth and the vote of each panel member and the reason for their vote.