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NY Efficiency Plans: Worth The Paperwork?

A dispatcher takes a call at the Tompkins county 911 center.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tax-reduction plan includes a much-discussed property tax cap. But there’s another part that has unfolded with less fanfare. It pushes local governments to consolidate services in order to save money.

What does that consolidation look like? The Tompkins County 911 center is a good example. It runs 911 operations for the whole county. Assistant dispatch director Brian Wilbur lists the agencies that use the dispatch center:

“Seventeen fire departments, four village police departments, Tompkins County sheriff, New York State Police, City of Ithaca Police – there are five ambulance services.”

That’s exactly what Governor Cuomo wants with his property tax freeze program. Cuomo and the legislature started the program four years ago and capped local tax increases at two percent. The idea is to control New York’s high taxes and create a better business climate. This year, for the second part of the program, local governments need to submit “efficiency plans.”

“The state has said, ‘Show us how you’re going to save money over the next three years,’” says Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane. Property owners get a tax credit if a locality submits an efficiency plan. All the savings in the plan have to be new, though.

“The challenge in Tompkins County was, we’ve done them,” Mareane says. “We have so many things that we have already consolidated.”

Mareane says the localities in Tompkins county combed through the services they share, looking for new ways to save. They finally found a solution. They tweaked their shared health insurance plan to squeeze out more savings.

“The important point here is that these kinds of initiatives aren’t the result of Albany saying, ‘You must find ways to save money,’” Mareane says. “This is what we do. We’re in the business of running efficient governments.”

A few miles away in Dryden, town supervisor Mary Ann Sumner comes down even harder on the state’s efficiency plan idea. She says that tax credit that property owners get is usually a couple of dollars.

“It’s a very, very small amount of money that is going to be rebated to the property owners as a result of, in some cases, some possibly serious cuts to services,” she says.

Not every local government in New York shares as many services as Tompkins county, though. In areas where consolidation hasn’t already happened, efficiency plans could be more relevant.

“Most counties have a single public safety answering point, but not all counties decided to do that,” says Brian Wilbur at the Tompkins county dispatch center. He points to Westchester county, which has 38 separate 911 centers. In that case, a little extra efficiency might not be a bad idea.