County officials will hear comments in Philipstown
By Holly Crocco
With a Sept. 15 deadline looming for Putnam County to submit a shared-services plan to the state, lawmakers are reviewing a final draft and will hear public comment at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Philipstown Town Hall.
As part of his drafting of the 2018 state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged counties to participate in a countywide Shared Services Initiative, which seeks to reduce property taxes by encouraging municipalities to share resources. He dangled funding from the state as a reward.
In June, the Putnam County Legislature approved spending $31,000 to hire Laberge Group to assist in the development of its plan, which can be downloaded at bit.ly/putnam-shared.
According to the plan, officials in Philipstown expressed interest only in joint purchasing.
“Some of the things in the plan are not that interesting,” explained Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea. “For instance, we don’t think sharing assessors is such a great idea. What we should be looking at consolidating are the schools.
“The supervisors have come up with places where we would agree to share, such as highway projects, engineering, larger projects,” he added. “I’m not blaming the county, but a lot of the things in the plan are not going to save a ton of money. I’ll be curious to see what comes out of it. And the plan also doesn’t address the excess revenue generated by sales taxes that the county is not sending back to us.”
In the plan, Cold Spring is shown as not having interest in any of the consolidation proposals, but Trustee Fran Murphy said the village’s response had not made it to the county in time to be included. In fact, she said, the village is interested in exploring consolidation in at least 18 areas, including joint purchasing, records storage, mowing, road paving, sidewalk repair, building department, code enforcement and dog control.
5 fire districts
7 school districts
5 police departments
In a letter to the legislature, County Executive MaryEllen Odell said a panel comprised of leadership from all municipalities in the county, including Odell, Shea, Philipstown Councilor Nancy Montgomery, Cold Spring Mayor Dave Merandy and Nelsonville Mayor Bill O’Neill, met four times this year to “brainstorm ideas and discuss opportunities.” The superintendents of the county’s seven school districts, including Garrison and Haldane, also participated.
The panel identified three short-term strategies that it said could reduce annual spending by $1 million in 2020: joint purchasing ($820,000); sharing of highway and public works services such as plowing ($91,000) and shared line-striping and paving ($198,000); and shared tax assessors ($185,711).
Not every short-term project involves every municipality. The joint purchasing would include Philipstown and Nelsonville, and the shared plowing would include Philipstown.
Too many assessors?
During the County Legislature’s Aug. 13 Rules Committee meeting, lawmakers discussed the long-term possibility of shared tax assessment services, although towns would maintain their Boards of Assessment Review.
Legislator Paul Jonke (R-Southeast) noted that municipalities in Putnam County employ five full-time assessors, as well as a part-timer, to cover 43,000 parcels. If those five-and-a-half assessors were replaced by one person, “you’re saving four-and-a-half fairly substantial salaries,” he said.
By comparison, he said, on Long Island, Huntington has 80,000 parcels, Islip has 98,000 parcels and Brookhaven has 175,000 parcels, and each employs one assessor.
Further, Jonke noted, in Dutchess County, Wappinger and Fishkill share an assessor, as do Beacon and East Fishkill.
All terms for assessors in the state are up for re-appointment in September 2019, so if the county plans to consolidate, it should do so now, he said.
“Once they’re appointed, our plan goes out the window for another six years,” he said. “Once they’re appointed, you can’t cut it.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino (R-Patterson) expressed concern for seniors who would have to travel to Carmel, the county seat, to grieve their taxes. Jonke acknowledged that some residents enjoy the “small-town” service they receive at town halls. “We’re accustomed to this soft touch,” he said, “and maybe that’s not how we should be running government.”
Legislator Neal Sullivan (R-Mahopac) commented that “soft touch” is expensive. “People are always complaining about their taxes; we’ve got to look at ways to cut expenses,” he said.
County Attorney Jennifer Bumgarner explained that municipalities would maintain their tax collection offices, since those are elected positions. “You would have to get around the elected official thing” in order to consolidate, she said. “You’d have to abolish the office by referendum.”
Other projects the panel suggested the county consider in the long-term include consolidation of emergency communications equipment, shared dog control services, health insurance cooperatives, combined digital records management, shared justice courts, consolidated human resources offices and payroll services and shared information technology support.