Putnam Discusses Consolidating Services

Also, asks state to OK court appearances by video

By Holly Crocco

As part of the 2017-18 state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established an initiative to encourage cities, towns, villages, school districts, fire departments and other agencies to share services and reduce costs, and taxes. He dangled the possibility that municipalities that make this happen could receive additional state funding.

The plan calls on each county executive to establish a panel to research ways to eliminate redundant services, establish joint purchasing and share equipment and facilities.

During a hearing on May 18 in Carmel, Putnam lawmakers criticized the governor and state legislature for not recognizing that the county has long shared services.

As an example, county officials noted that Putnam is part of the East of Hudson Watershed Corp., in which 19 municipalities work together to meet stormwater regulations. It has also established a county Commission for Fiscal Vision and Accountability that investigates ways to improve infrastructure, lower energy consumption, consolidate law enforcement, find health insurance savings and share garbage and recycling services, recreational facilities and programs and tax assessment resources.

Sheriff Donald Smith cited the school resource officer program in which the county provides law enforcement officers stationed at schools, including Haldane in Cold Spring.

In addition, the Sheriff’s Office and the Carmel and Kent police departments share training resources as part of the Putnam County Emergency Response Team, he said. The county also patrols Lake Mahopac to assist the Carmel P.D.

One central office

During the hearing, Southeast Town Councilwoman Lynne Eckardt asked County Executive MaryEllen Odell if her administration or the Legislature has considered downsizing the county government. Odell responded that its cost to taxpayers is already minimal.

According to Odell, Putnam collects the lowest portion, per dollar, of property tax of any of New York’s 62 counties. In Putnam, for each $1 of property tax, 71 cents go to school districts, she said, 18 cents to towns, 1 cent to fire districts and 1 cent to villages. The county gets 9 cents.

“The big money is in the school districts, not the town or county government,” she said.

 She pointed to Fairfax, Virginia, where the county government administers all the schools in the county — serving 180,000 students — through a single administrative office. Odell stated that with many of Putnam’s six school districts maintaining separate offices with combined salaries that exceed $200,000 each, a significant savings could be made by consolidation.

The next public hearing on the shared services initiative is scheduled for 4 p.m. on June 20.

Video appearances

Putnam lawmakers continue to push for the ability to bring inmates to court through video conferencing. The move would require a change in state law to allow a judge to determine if a defendant could be beamed in from the Putnam County Correctional Facility or other lockups. Currently the inmate must agree.

Odell said the county already has the equipment and is “shovel-ready” for the change. Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) explained that when the proposal first came up a few years ago, it was backed by the sheriff, the district attorney and a number of towns, so the county spent several hundred thousand-dollars on equipment.

Odell said allowing a judge to order inmates to appear by video could save the county as much as $200,000 annually in costs associated with transporting prisoners — including wear and tear on vehicles, gas and overtime for deputies — while improving officer safety.

In addition, Odell argued, some inmates prefer to not come to court. “Not every defendant wants to take the ride and be paraded around,” she said.

Smith said having a defendant appear before a judge through a television or computer screen, in real time, would “in no way” violate that person’s rights.

However, during a discussion in April, some lawmakers expressed concern.

Dini LoBue (R-Mahopac Falls) said that forcing defendants to appear by video was a civil-rights violation. “We’d be opening ourselves up to litigation,” she argued.

Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) had a similar opinion. “There’s something important about a face-to-face translation and I would hate to see that ability taken away,” she said.

4 thoughts on “Putnam Discusses Consolidating Services

  1. When asked about taxes, why did Odell talk about property taxes? Sales taxes are a much larger portion of the county’s income, more than double the levy from property taxes. And Putnam County’s sales tax rate is not the lowest in NYS, not close. Are sales tax payers not taxpayers?

    • Excellent point. The Philipstown Town board has been asking the County to meet and discuss the possible sharing of at least the excess sales tax received during certain years with the town’s — like most counties in New York do — to no avail. If sharing took place it would create incentive to find more ways to increase sales tax revenue, thereby allowing for the easier reduction in sales tax rates as well. Having a good open discussion about any idea to possibly save money is never a waste of time.

  2. The sharing of services? The sharing of taxes?

    Make no mistake, the game being played here, whether obscured intentionally or subconsciously, behind high sounding ideas, is one of sovereignty, or at least of relative sovereignty, between different levels of (a “mixed” form of) government. It’s a battle, albeit a rhetorical battle, with “efficiency” as the current selling point. Carrots and sticks are both used.

    Who gets to tax whom, in what manner, and for how much? Who gets to tell whom they may and may not tax? Who decides how much of the various taxes and fees levied and collected, directly and indirectly, are to be shared, and with whom? Who must cooperate and consolidate with whom, and who must relinquish some of their sovereignty, their rights and their options (a little bit here, a little bit there)? Who gets to tell whom they must deliver specific services, and who pays for them?

    Although this system of “mixed government” is, I think, compatible with, even to some extent based upon, Montesquieu’s view of dividing power into “estates”, rather than letting it concentrate into a single entity or power, a tyranny, as it invariably does, later in his century, and today, the general trend, both before and after any “revolution”, has been the increasing size and the increasing centralization of control and authority in governments. An informed and vigilant people is probably the only brake on this process.

    There is no “one size fits all” answer to these questions. The more the people are informed and aware, active and engaged, the wider the input, the greater the chance the system can be a fair and just one. All bets are off if many who could be are not engaged, are not well informed, or are slumbering. For example, indirect taxes, including sales taxes, typically do not receive the attention they should from, well, many taxpayers, as they are levied in small, often even hidden, amounts, in nickels and dimes, and typically one hardly notices how these small amounts can and do add up.

    The saving of money by economizing on, and reducing options for, civil rights, specifically as mentioned in the article with the concept of video appearances in courts, or otherwise, is certainly not a proposal I would support. The same goes for the saving of money by any economizing on transparency during any operations of governmental, political, and electoral activities, as well as any and all functions of law enforcement and of the judicial system.

  3. There is actually a reason that the County does not share sales tax with the towns and it is because of an anomaly in the relationship with the Federal government and New York.

    New York is one of the few states in which local governments have to pay a share of the exorbitant costs of Medicaid. That means that local taxpayers have to cough up over $7.2 billion annually to fund this mandate and that is passed along to us via our County taxes. You can complain all you want and come up with all the latest nifty theories, but there’s not a damn thing anyone can do until things are straightened out vis a vis Albany and D.C.

    Meanwhile, there is something Cold Spring could do to save hundreds of thousands every year and that would be to abolish its totally unnecessary police department.

    Why you people want to continue paying such a large chunk of your hard earned money for services that are duplicated by the Sheriff’s Department is beyond me.