The Recorder

Consolidation plan makes sense

We’ve been championing local government consolidation for years as a vehicle to save money and improve services, and thanks to the enticement of state money, it might actually happen.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s state budget includes a County-Wide Shared Services Initiative, a mandate requiring the top officials in each county to establish a shared services panel and develop a shared services plan to reduce property taxes. If approved by the state, plans may be eligible for a one-time match of the net savings.

Montgomery County’s shared services panel is under the capable guidance of County Executive Matthew Ossenfort.

In the past, local consolidation talk has been cheap, but that’s not the case with the plan formulated by this panel. In fact, it’s quite impressive.

Key components of the plan include:

• The dissolution of the village of Canajoharie and town-wide consolidation;

• Dissolution of the Fort Plain Police Department;

• County departmental consolidation, merging  the mental health and public health departments;

•  Upgrading and combing records management between the county, city of Amsterdam and towns of Florida and Amsterdam;

• A shared municipal building in Canajoharie utilizing the former Beech-Nut property that would include a sheriff’s post, court facility and vehicle maintenance and repair facility.

The key to the plan’s success is getting the local municipalities to get on board and that means guaranteeing the same services will be provided to residents. We are convinced that under Ossenfort’s direction those services will not only continue, but will be more efficient.

Additionally, Ossenfort said most of the work that has been done for the shared services plan was utilized for the state’s Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition. The county is one of six finalists that are competing for a $20 million state prize that would fund consolidation efforts. Ossenfort said the county submitted its application on June 28. The winner will be announced in August.

The savings accumulated by the Shared Services Initiative certainly aren’t as grand as winning the $20 million Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, but they are still significant.

For example, the net savings for the consolidation of the village and town of Canajoharie are projected to be $200,000 in the first year, which would be eligible to be matched by state funds. While the state match would only occur once, the savings will be perpetual.

We understand that change is often difficult to embrace, but our municipalities will never truly flourish until we shed some of the heavy tax burden that has slowly choked the life out of the county like a creeping vine taking over a garden.

If methods can be employed to provide the basic services to our residents in a more effective and cost efficient manner, providing tax savings to property owners, our elected officials would be remiss to not embrace this plan.