The Twin 800-Pound Gorillas in the Room
We were honored last week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo paid a visit to West Haverstraw.
His chosen topic was consolidation and shared services – specifically increasing the services that counties like Rockland share with towns and village and consolidate overlapping functions.
The governor is advocating a carrot-and-stick approach to make this happen.
This idea is an easy sell in Rockland County, where we have long championed consolidations and shared services as a way to hold costs down.
We told the governor that we never miss an opportunity to save money for taxpayers.
And we were polite enough to our distinguished guest not to dwell on the twin 800-pound gorillas in the room whenever you mention cutting county costs: school taxes and unfunded state mandates.
County taxes make up only nine percent of the tax bill in Rockland. The biggest portion of our taxes – approximately two-thirds – go to support our public schools.
How can we talk about reductions in costs, consolidation and shared services if we don’t include the schools in the conversation?
Similarly, how can the head of state government talk to us, the counties, about cutting costs when more than 90 percent of our budget goes to pay for unfunded state mandates?
These mandates keep growing.
Just recently a close examination of the governor’s proposed budget by our staff in the Department of Social Service and our Finance Department yielded an unpleasant surprise for county taxpayers.
The governor’s proposal seeks to reduce state funding of the Foster Child Care Block Grant from 54 percent of state aid to 50 percent.
That change will shift $400,000 in costs to the county.
This is a perfect example of the challenges we face as we try to cut costs. The state mandates that we provide these services, and now, our taxpayers may have to dig into their pockets for another $400,000 to pay for it. We are working with our state representatives to address this change as part of the budget process.
All the shared services in the world aren’t going to bring our costs down unless we also address unfunded state mandates and school taxes.
We also told the governor of the many ways we are ahead of the curve in Rockland County when it comes to shared services: Our Department of Health conducts mosquito control for all the towns, our Department of Highways shares equipment and expertise with towns and villages; our Department of Personnel administers civil service tests for towns, village and schools.
We even cross state lines – we have mutual aid agreements with Bergen County, N.J.
Those are just a few examples of the steps we have taken to share services to ease the burden on the taxpayer.
There are many others, including the fact that Rockland was one of the founders of the Hudson Valley Municipal Purchasing Group, which is a shared regional approach to bid and contract opportunities.
This shared service was so successful that it was used as a model for the Empire State Purchasing group in 2015. This shared approach to bidding gets the best price for taxpayers with the least cost for businesses.
We are always looking for new ways to become more efficient and save our taxpayers money.
We look forward to seeing the details of the governor’s proposal, which we hope will help continue to find sensible changes that make local government more efficient and more effective.