The ups and downs of consolidating services

Consolidating and sharing local government services has been both champion and problematic for local politicians. While most agree that the savings can be substantial when governments eliminate redundancies and cooperate, many local leaders are reluctant to give up what they perceive as local control. In other words, they know it's the right thing to do but they don't want to give up their turf.

Here in Cicero we've proven that consolidation can save tax dollars while keeping local control. We've seen this specifically in the shared services agreements our town has with the town of Salina and village of North Syracuse. When Cicero and Salina began sharing a single assessor in 2008, it resulted in an immediate $30,000 savings for taxpayers in each town. Our towns share an assessor but maintain separate offices and assessment rolls. This arrangement also means that each town can now reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid from New York State which is promoting the sharing of assessors.

Late last year, our current town board voted to abolish this shared assessor agreement which would have dramatically increased the cost of our own assessor's office and resulted in the loss of state aid, something in these tight economic times we simply cannot afford. Fortunately, this was reversed and the agreement with Salina was kept in place.

Another example of consolidation of services is when Cicero began providing codes enforcement in the village of North Syracuse. Under this agreement, the village pays the town approximately $2,000 per month for the services of a codes officer. This results in extra revenue for the town and eliminates the cost of maintaining a codes office in the village. Hopefully, this type of agreement can continue and benefit both municipalities.

Last year there was a study to review consolidation of the Cicero Police Department with the Onondaga County Sherriff's Office. However, after a review of the facts and figures there would be no savings to contract with the Sherriff's Office on a year-to-year basis for similar police coverage we currently enjoy. In fact, over a few year period such a merger would have cost more as there were built in steady increases with such a contract.

As tax dollars tighten, municipalities must constantly look for and find more creative ways to cut costs and provide the services taxpayers demand. But consolidating services not only has to create savings for taxpayers, it also has to make sense. As towns continue to deal with tightening budgets and increasing operating costs, we owe it to our taxpayers to find more creative and efficient ways to provide services. Simply passing the increasing cost of government onto taxpayers and raising taxes is no longer an option.

Jim Corl, Jr., is a Cicero town councilor.

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