Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney speaks at the Aug. 3 public hearing of the Onondaga County Shared Services plan. Two more public hearing will follow in the near future. (Hayleigh Gowans)
By Hayleigh Gowans
The first of three public hearings for the Onondaga County Shared Services plan that was recently released by County Executive Joanie Mahoney was held on Aug. 3, bringing little public comment to the event at East Syracuse Minoa High School.
The plan has been spearheaded by Mahoney as a response to the County-Wide Shared Services Law passed by New York State, which requires all counties, excluding New York City, to prepare a “property tax savings plan for shares, coordinated and efficient services among the county, cities, towns and villages.” A panel made up of representatives from 19 towns, 15 villages and 18 school districts within the county have made recommendations of what services have the potential to be shared to bring about savings.
Mahoney was required to create a shared services document by Aug. 1. The first draft of the document includes five sections with proposed shared services provided by the Consensus CNY group and the panel. The draft document also includes three appendices that outline the existing shared services between local government, school districts, OCM BOCES and information on the impact on local taxes that state mandates incur.
As part of the County-Wide Shared Services Law, any future savings caused by sharing services will have the potential to be matched dollar-for-dollar by the state in the 2019 New York State Budget, said Mahoney.
At the one-hour public hearing, only five members of the public took the opportunity to voice their concerns or ask questions. Among the crowd of about 50 people at the public hearing were many representatives from county municipal governments.
Some concerns addressed were lack of transparency, lack of details of the proposed cost savings and those amounts, and that merging too many services together could cause local governments to become less personal.
“Is this trying to save taxpayer money or impersonalizing government?” county resident Michale Pede said. “There’s no numbers or figures, how can we truly make sure this is beneficial to Onondaga County?”
Mahoney said her goal is to pass a shared services plan with as much input from municipal leaders and the public as possible. The plan is scheduled to be voted on by Sept. 13. If approved by the panel, Mahoney has until Oct. 15 to present the full shared services plan to the public. If a plan is accepted, there is no obligation for any municipality to take part in any of the proposed agreements.
“There is nothing about the vote for this plan that binds anybody … It’s a good faith agreement to work toward things that can save money,” said Mahoney. “This ultimately is a good, healthy process.”
Skaneateles Supervisor James Lanning said he believes going through this process is critical in keeping a check on where taxpayers can save money considering the increasing costs of unfunded mandates.
“The bottom line is: Why would we not go through this process? If we come out with even just one items, why would we not pursue,” said Lanning.
Through the public hearing process, Fayetteville Mayor Mark Olson said the panel will be able to assess where their constituents see the potential for cost savings. He said this also allows local lawmakers to show just how much of an impact unfunded mandates from the state are having on their budgets.
“We want mandate relief, they are the costs that are driving our budgets,” said Olson. “I think it’s important to have this document to show we are already doing too much to save our taxpayers money.”
Minoa Mayor Bill Brazill, however, said he has doubts about the need to create a shared service plan, saying is not new and pointing out the three villages within the town of Manlius consolidated their police departments to form a town-wide force in 1985.
“I don’t feel it’s beneficial. If there’s another way to save money, show it to me and I’ll look into it but I don’t think we need to go through this process,” said Brazill.
The next draft of the document will be released on Aug. 17 and a second public hearing will be held Aug. 24. Members of the public can give comment in writing or by emailing SharedServices@ongov.net.
To learn more about the Onondaga County Shared Services plan or to read the full document, go to ongov.net/sharedservicesplan.
I am a reporter for the Eagle Bulletin and Cazenovia Republican at Eagle News. I report on topics ranging from town and village government, business, news and features. I am a 2014 graduate of the Roy H. Park School of Communications and have a degree in Journalism and a minor in Psychology.