GUEST COLUMN: Shared Services Panel Produces Bi-Partisan Results

Modified: September 15, 2017 12:39pm

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Date: 
9/15/17

By Mark Poloncarz

For the past few months I have been meeting with local leaders from over 30 municipalities as part of the county Shared Services Panel, a bi-partisan group tasked with creating a county-wide Shared Services Tax Saving Plan with new recurring property tax savings to be achieved through actions such as the elimination of duplicative services, shared services, and the reduction of back-office administrative overhead. Similar panels are in place in counties across NYS and are working on similar goals. I am pleased to say that the Erie County Panel overwhelmingly approved the Plan on September 5, including recommendations from the Erie County Legislature, and it has now been certified and submitted to NYS for final approval.

Erie County and its 3 cities, 25 towns and 16 villages already have a long history of sharing services in order to provide residents and taxpayers the highest quality services at the lowest possible cost. Erie County, itself, has lowered its property tax for 3 consecutive years (2015-17) and is now at its lowest rate since 2005. Also, in 2015 Erie County created the county wide Government Efficiency Plan as part of NYS’s Property Tax Cap Freeze Program, which provided homeowners tax relief in the form of a rebate on state property taxes over a three-year period if local governments remained under the tax cap. This year’s Panel met to explore ways to do even better and had robust discussions along the way.

The Panel identified 22 specific new initiatives that, if implemented, would save local taxpayers approximately $4.3 million per year, along with an additional 10 initiatives that could save millions more. While the anticipated savings are not of the magnitude of the many consolidations, cooperative efforts and shared services already undertaken or previously identified, this Plan’s new initiatives may realize new savings beyond those already achieved. Among the cost-saving projects certified in the Plan are sharing of services like animal control, composting, building inspections, and electronic waste disposal. Coordinated municipal purchasing, sharing highway equipment, and cooperative highway equipment purchasing are also included. Additional as-yet uncertified projects include potential water system and sewer district consolidations, consolidations of real property tax assessments, and possible takeovers of county roads by municipalities. All of these actions could result in substantial savings for county residents.

Working on the Plan required local officials from both parties to roll up their sleeves and search for ways to lessen the tax burden on all county residents, not just those in their own specific city, town, or village. Creative ideas were presented and discussed, possible relationships were explored or expanded on, and participants actively collaborated on cost-saving concepts of every type. Not every idea was found to be workable and not all suggestions found their way into the final Plan, but the best and most practical ideas are there. I would like to thank the officials who took part in the Plan process for joining in a spirit of cooperation and working for the best interests of the entire county. Your efforts are truly appreciated.

You can read the Plan for yourself at www.erie.gov/sharedservices .