O'Hearn will head shared services panel
SCHUYLER COUNTY--The Schuyler County Council of Governments will hold public meetings June 21 and July 12 to discuss the new county-wide Shared Services Panel (SSP) initiative. The first public meeting is May 17.
This mandated law aims to reduce property taxes by requiring county officials to develop localized plans that find tax savings by coordinating and eliminating duplicative services and enhancing group purchasing power.
Tim O'Hearn, Schuyler County administrator and chair of the SSP, stated, "New York property taxes rank among the highest in the nation. Clearly we need to do more to lessen this burden on our residents."
He pointed out Schuyler County has been looking for these savings since 2005 when they created their Council of Governments (COG). The group essentially mimics the required membership of the SSP because it includes the chief elected officials and school superintendents in the county. The agenda for the April 26 meeting of COG was changed to become the first meeting of the Schuyler County SSP.
O'Hearn said while the effort is a worthy one, it is unfortunate that it attempts to place the blame of high property taxes solely on local government. "New York is one of only five states that share a portion of its federal Medicaid responsibility with local counties," said O'Hearn. "In Schuyler's case, a third of a property tax owner's bill goes toward funding the state's share of the federal Medicaid bill."
He further noted, "Adding somewhat to our local frustration is that what is being mandated we have been doing for years, and in fact many of the innovative collaborations are already paying dividends realized through lower property tax bills. The county has maintained or increased service while complying with the tax cap legislation and has actually lowered the tax rate each of the last five years."
Code enforcement, tax collection, the court system and health insurance expenses will be among the many areas that may be fruitful to explore for cost savings, said O'Hearn. The plan must be developed by Aug. 1. More public meetings will be scheduled to review it before it moves to the legislature.
In addition to the requirement of three public hearings, there are additional benchmarks for completion of tasks related to the plans. By Aug. 1, the panel must research recommendations from all the representatives of the shared services panel as well as the representatives of each collective bargaining unit of the county, towns and villages and other optional invited panel members and must write, certify, and submit the plan to the county legislature.
Before Sept. 15, the county legislature must review the plan, modify it if necessary, hold three public hearings on the plan, and vote on it. Any "no" votes must be explained in writing by the panel member.
The SSP convenes its next meeting Thursday, May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Human Services Complex in Montour Falls. The public is invited to attend this meeting as well as the May 17 SSP public meeting at the County Legislative Offices, 105 Ninth St., Watkins Glen at 7 p.m.
A full explanation of the legislation and other supporting documents can be found at http://www.dos.ny.gov/lg/countywide_services.html.