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Fulton County Releases Shared Services Plan

Residents of Fulton County, New York are being invited to share their thoughts on a new Shared Services Plan.

Beginning with a mandate from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature last year, New York counties have begun studying ways to save money by sharing services.

Last year, 34 counties formed Shared Services Committees and submitted plans to the state, for implementation in 2018.

This year, committees in 23 counties are in the process of putting together a plan.

The Fulton County Shared Services Panel recently released a 26-page draft plan that offers recommendations on how entities within the county can share resources. The first of three planned public hearings on the draft report was Thursday afternoon.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead says the plan takes an “all of the above” approach.

“It could be local municipality to local municipality, county with local municipalities, local municipalities working with other entities,  maybe even across county lines,” said Stead. 

Stead said the largest source of savings within the report is the county’s SMART Waters regional water and wastewater management plan, which could save up to $25 million. 

That project was already underway, but is included in its draft Shared Services Plan.

Some areas of savings focus on infrastructure like waste collection or street lighting.

One project involving all towns and the county, says Stead, is a tax collection software sharing.

“When you get all said and done, it’s relatively small but it would save initially $15,000 in capital expense and $1,000 per year in ongoing operation expense for 10 towns throughout the county. So it’s a little smaller process but it does save some money.”

Looking statewide, those projects add up. Mark Lavigne of the Deputy Director of the New York State Association of Counties said the Shared Services Initiative has had an impact on the current fiscal year.

“We’re talking about a $130 million worth of savings,” said Lavigne.

That’s excluding an estimated $80 million in savings from a project in Nassau County on Long Island that has yet to be completed.

As is the case in Fulton County’s SMART Waters project, Lavigne said local governments have been looking for ways to share services for several years.

“Decades actually,” said Lavigne. “So this gives some of those programs, some of those shared services initiatives an opportunity to be formalized.”

Both Lavigne and Stead agree that despite new ways to save money, state mandates have the largest drain on county dollars.

“The state is focused on a laser on property taxes. We need them to step up to the table to reduce mandates on local governments, on counties, on the property taxpayer. And that would go a lot further toward reducing property taxes,” said Lavigne.

A unique policy much-maligned by county leaders, county governments in New York fund the state’s Medicaid program. According to NYSAC, New York’s counties and New York City spend more than $7 billion on Medicaid, more than all other local governments in the nation combined.

Under Governor Andrew Cuomo, municipalities have operated under a tax cap law, where a limit is placed on the annual growth of property taxes at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

Public hearings on Fulton County’s draft Shared Services Plan will be held Monday at 2:30 and 6:30 p.m. at the Fulton County Office Building. .

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.