Shared Services Program Reports Savings

By Assemblyman Will Barclay

The Department of State recently issued its first three-year report on the Shared Municipal Services Incentive Program.  This program was created by the State Legislature in 2005 to “encourage municipalities to reduce costs through municipal cooperation and consolidation.”  Counties, cities, towns, villages and school districts can apply for grant money to share services.  Those services can range from something as simple as sharing a code enforcement officer to dissolving town police forces, as was seen in Clay, N.Y., earlier this year.

More and more municipalities are taking advantage of the opportunity to consolidate where they can with the grant money that’s available to help them take care of the costs associated with such a change.  It’s a trend I’m pleased to see taking place.  The hope is that the more that is shared among municipalities, the fewer local tax dollars residents will have to pay.  Not only does it save taxpayers money but it makes good sense to urge municipalities to reach out to one another to see how they can help each other.  Some have been able to share health services, water and sewer districts, highway equipment and personnel in recent years.

A projected quarter of a billion dollars in local government savings has been leveraged from a state investment of $23.3 million in 139 projects over the past two years.  Program coordinators also work with municipalities to develop solutions to common problems.

An example of such a project provided in the report took place in Schuyler County:  The Watkins Glen Central School District, the town of Hector and Dix and the village of Watkins Glen formed a partnership to develop a central records management facility within the county.  The school district provided space and the department is staffed under an intermunicipal agreement.  In this particular case, several part-time positions were consolidated into a single, full-time records officer who is responsible for keeping records for all of the participating municipalities.  SMSI awarded the project $100,000 and the total cost was $571,000.  Though this was an investment for the municipalities, it will save money over time.

Nearly 70 percent of the grant money has been awarded to Upstate communities.  Though Upstate has clearly benefited from the program, other parts of Upstate fared better than Central New York.  The map published in the three-year report shows more counties in the southern tier and western parts of the state have taken advantage of the grant program more so than Central New York.  I hope this is a trend our local leaders throughout Oswego and Onondaga counties can work to change.  There are many services that, upon careful review, local leaders may find duplicative.  We also cannot ignore the economic crisis we have entered.  This is one program that local leaders can use to help save money before programming or services need to be cut entirely.  High priority planning grant applications will be accepted until March 2009.  These are actions the Department of State believes have great potential for cost savings or structural change.  More forward-thinking leaders have already begun to think along these lines but the grant money provides an incentive for others to do the same.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns regarding this or any other state matter.  I can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by phone at (315) 598-5185.