BELMONT — About 45 government officials and at least one local businessman came together this week to brainstorm ideas for shared services that could mean more efficiency and lower taxes at the local government level.
The exercise is just one of several steps in Allegany County's attempt to find projects that will hit the mark for a 50 percent reimbursement under the New York State County-Wide Shared Services Initiative.
The state mandate for the initiative asks counties to find recurring property tax savings by eliminating duplicative services or sharing services between department. Prior projects that have paired local governments won't count in the plan, which has to be completed and approved by the Allegany County Legislature in September.
Facilitating a gathering Monday night were Steve Hanmer and Paul Bishop of CGR Promising Solutions of Rochester. The men said they have been traveling Allegany County's rural roads, conducting interviews and gathering data from a majority of the towns and villages since February in an effort to enlist participation.
Hanmer told the group what they have learned. He said Allegany County's residents like an independent lifestyle, value open space and take pride in their communities, but the county is facing a declining population.
"There is a desire for more retail but you have to find creative ways to grow your tax base and find a common vision," Hanmer said.
"We need to grow ideas into a realistic plan for the Legislature and go back to the state. There's a lot going on," said Bishop. "Certain areas have more impact than others."
He listed areas where some efficiencies could be shared: highway, water, sewers, utilities, trash collection, transfer stations, landfills.
"What are your ideas?" he asked the group.
The consultants asked the attendees to form two groups, under the headings of utilities and community services.
"You are close to the taxpayers," Hanmer said, urging the two groups to be creative and think in terms of making an investment because efforts in one category may lead to savings in others.
He cautioned against a pitfall he has stumbled across in his meetings with some officials: refrain from avoiding collaborations because of personality clashes that happened years ago.
"Think about the future of your community," he said.
Some officials questioned the wide range of costs in town assessment fees, ranging from $6.74 to as much as $35 per parcel, and the possibility of sharing the task perhaps at the county level. One participant suggested dividing the county into districts for the task.
Another topic focused on water supply and extending existing services, such as the water line from Fillmore to Belfast and another water line connection from Bolivar and Richburg. Sewer lines might be problematic, according to some of the participants who expressed frustration that many communities have private septic systems or repairs are constantly required in the antiquated municipal systems
Efficiency in criminal justice might be achieved by sharing town justices within districts, was another area that generated a lot of support.
Some of the attendees pointed out that most communities work together in an emergency, but the shifting demands of the declining rural economy, and the loss of productive members of the population have created a "slow burn."
Participants were asked to continue the effort and review demographic data that has been collected by CGR, and to fill out a focus group scorecard to choose some of the opportunities that have been suggested.
Another meeting will be held at 6 p.m. April 24 at the BOCES in Belmont on County Road 48.