Large turnout for government efficiency forum

State and local officials came together Wednesday at Fulton-Montgomery Community College to discuss ways to share services and help homeowners qualify for a partial property tax rebate under the state’s new Property Tax Freeze Credit program.

In 2015, the first year of the two-year program, homeowners will receive the credit if their local government or school district stays within the tax cap. In the second year, homeowners will receive the credit if their local government or school district stays within the tax cap and also develops a plan to save property taxpayers 1 percent of the tax levy in the following years. Wednesday’s meeting, organized by Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort, focused on ways municipalities can share services.

“The fact that this room is full speaks to the importance of this issue,” Ossenfort said. “We do share services and help each other. Let’s be the best; we can do that by working together.”

Mark Pattison and Kyle Wilber of the New York State Department’s Division of Local Government Services led off Wednesday’‘s session by citing examples of ways to share services.

“I think this is an opportunity to rethink how we provide services,” Pattison said.

Schenectady County will save $1 million per year by consolidating services, he said. St. Lawrence County is working on consolidating its court system, and Westchester County is streamlining its economic development services, he said.

Wilber cited the consolidation of three fire districts in Monroe County and a joint prescription drug plan in the Albany County Board of Cooperative Educational Services as examples.

“The first thing is that the ideas come from you,” he told the crowd.

Brian Scala of the Oneida County Department of Public Works said his county saved more than $238,000 in 2014 through sharing equipment and services such as mowing, striping and ditching among municipalities.

Montgomery County Senior Planner Bill Roehr said the county already has “a tremendous amount of informal sharing of services.” He talked about a technology upgrade at the Department of Social Services and the ongoing effort to consolidate county buildings.

Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane said the city has been working on consolidating services since 2009.

“Now here we are and this is being demanded of us,” she said. “We have road agreements. Our staff is working together on economic development efforts.

Thane said records management “seems to be a place for us to start.”

After the program, several officials who attended expressed optimism.

“This is a fantastic start,” Ossenfort said. “Tonight was a good crowd and there was good information. The key is going to be keeping up the momentum over the next months and years.”

County legislators Bob Purtell and Terry Bieniek were impressed.

“It’s nice to see the community get together with similar goals to reduce taxes and increase productivity,” Purtell said.

(Photos by John Becker)

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.