By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
FONDA -- When it comes to shared services, Montgomery and Fulton counties are ahead of the curve, state officials said Friday.
Representatives from Montgomery and Fulton counties met with officials of the Department of State at the Montgomery County Annex Building to discuss shared service initiatives that could improve government efficiency on a regional level.
"We think this is an important topic and there is so much that can happen," Montgomery County Legislature Chairman Thomas Quackenbush said. "I am just trying to get the conversation started."
Quackenbush was joined by Montgomery County District 5 Legislator Terry Bieniek and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, Fulton County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Argotsinger, Broadalbin Supervisor Tom Christopher and Northampton Councilman Art Simmons.
Representatives from the state Division of Local Government Services included Director Mark Pattison, Land Use Training Specialist Sean Maguire and Deputy Secretary of State Dierdre Scozzafava.
Maguire said the goal is to create a "road map of opportunity" that outlines fiscal benefits and how to move forward.
Pattison said that while some may argue against consolidation, it makes sense to reduce costs and provide more effective services to residents in the future.
"This is an opportunity to look at how things work," he said. "The current structure isn't sustainable. It's not based on the modern world."
Quackenbush agreed, noting the separate services provided by the villages and the towns, which could be consolidated.
For example, he said each village has its own police department, which can cost upwards of $400,000 a year. However, there are at least three that are within 10 miles of each other. If consolidated, those costs would decrease.
"It doesn't make sense," he said. "But we haven't gotten to the point to have those discussions with all those other municipalities because of whatever [issues]."
Bieniek said some municipalities work efficiently as they are, and asked why they should consider shared services.
"[Some say] most times shared services doesn't save money," he said. "Most of the towns in my district are sitting better than the county, so why should they get involved with the county?"
Scozzafava replied that its not just about municipalities sharing services with the county, but other municipalities. Things like consolidating courts have proven to be cost effective and make sense, she said.
"You always have to look at new opportunities to do things better," she said.
Scozzafava said Cuomo's attempt to reduce cost and size of government is happening statewide in all levels of government.
"Yes, more is being asked of everyone around this table, but the same thing is also being asked of everyone from the state, she said.
Thane asked what funding resources are available to assist municipalities moving forward with these ideas.
"Where should I go, as a municipality, to be successful?" she asked.
Scozzafava said the state could provide those resources.
Since officials said the biggest challenge moving forward is getting the towns and villages to take a more proactive stance on shared services, they agreed to hold a summit at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College to provide a better understanding about what is involved, and how it could provide efficiency in the region.