Administrators for Allegany and Cattaraugus counties announced they are taking different approaches to the state-mandated County Wide Shared Services Initiative.

Cattaraugus County officials said they plan to complete a plan by Aug. 1, while Allegany County officials have announced they will take until mid-2018 to wrap up a plan.

Cattaraugus County Administrator Jack Searles said that the county’s committee will meet for a fourth time tonight, and will have its first public hearing at the same time.

“There is a clear intent — actually, a unanimous intent … that they want to get it done in 2017,” Searles said, referring to feedback from municipal leaders participating in the project. “They don’t want to wait.”

Even with the tight deadline, Searles said many ideas have already be floated.

“We’ve identified about 13 to 17 different planks of the plan,” Searles said.

Some of the planks include:

• Consolidating town justice courts

• Shared procurement of demolition services for municipal-owned structures

• Shared procurement of natural gas and electric utilities, professional engineering services, animal control services, legal counsel, and health insurance and Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage

• Shifting town property assessment responsibilities in some municipalities to the county.

• Shared highway machinery purchases, as well as software-based systems for towns to reserve equipment and avoid conflicting requests.

The interest varies on some proposals, Searles said, with some proposals, like shared health insurance purchasing, seeing broad support.

“Just about every municipality in the county is interested in something like that,” Searles said.

The law requires the plan to attach savings estimates to each proposal.

“Each one of those items will have a dollar amount attached to it — that is actually the biggest challenge right now,” Searles said, adding trying to coordinate data collection from 16 towns — each with different staffing levels and office hours — for a proposal “can be a challenge, but just a logistical challenge.

“There’s a heavy amount of back office work, mostly from my office,” he said.

Even when the plan is submitted to the county Legislature for approval and later to the state, the plan could still end up looking different in implementation.

“That is simply a starting point,” he said. “A plan is a live document that will be modified over time… It’s really going back to the towns involved (to implement it).”

Municipalities, through changing needs or desires of elected officials, will not be bound to the agreement without consent.

“The fact that you put together a plan does not in any way diminish the local authority of the towns or the county,” he said. “I hope it goes into play, but I guarantee you that to the best of my ability, it will be delivered on time.”

ALLEGANY COUNTY officials will hold off on implementing a state-mandated shared services agreement until next year, citing a short timeline and a wish to craft a better plan.

Allegany County Administrator Tim Boyde announced that the work of the Allegany Shared Services Committee, operating under the state County Wide Shared Services Initiative approved as part of the state budget in April, will not be able to wrap up by the Aug. 1 deadline, and locals have elected to use an extension allowed for under the law.

“In recognition of the very tight timelines and complexity of the tasks, the Allegany CWSSI panel has decided to use the balance of 2017 and available time in 2018 to fully develop a meaningful plan that will enable us to achieve both the maximum amount of tax savings and dollar for dollar matching funds,” Boyde said. “It is our belief that if we can devote the necessary time and effort to the process over the upcoming 18-month time period, our ability to adequately and appropriately develop measures in compliance with the legislation will be greatly enhanced.”

The initiative, included in the enacted 2017-18 state budget, requires county officials to develop localized plans to reduce property taxes by:

• the elimination of duplicative services;

• shared services, such as joint purchasing, shared highway equipment, shared storage facilities, shared plowing services, and energy and insurance purchasing cooperatives;

• reduction in back office administrative overhead; and

• better coordination of services.

Property taxes are the largest tax burden to the New York taxpayer, according to the Department of State, with the typical taxpayer paying 2.5 times more in property taxes than in income taxes.

It’s not the first time in recent memory the state has passed legislation to stem the rising tide of property taxes.

The 2011 property tax cap limits how far municipalities can raise the property tax levy under a formula. As a base, the formula uses a rate of two percent — where the cap gets its misnomer as “the two-percent tax cap” — or the annual change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower. However, the rate has been as low as 0.12 percent, and with calculations varying based on other factors, a few municipalities have seen tax caps requiring a decrease in tax levy.  

(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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