How do we know the numbers add up for shared services plans?


There is currently a major push to implement a variety of ideas for shared services and consolidation between Montgomery County municipalities including the City of Amsterdam. Many of the initiatives sound promising, but there’s one thing missing: actual numbers that show these initiatives will save us money.

Earlier this year, Montgomery County was selected as one of six municipalities to receive a $50,000 New York State grant to further study ideas for shared services and consolidation. The county is now competing for a $20 million grant which will be awarded to one of the six in order to implement the plan.

Some of the initiatives being pursued include a shared electronic documents management system, a county-wide property tax assessment system, a shared vehicle and equipment maintenance and repair facility, and possibly the consolidation of the Village and Town of Canajoharie.

These efforts may very well be beneficial, but how do we know?

County officials tell me the numbers will be released to the public soon. Last week, County Executive Matt Ossenfort told me that the details will be released, but only after the grant application is finished and submitted before the deadline this week. He also said that he plans to hold a public forum on the topic.

“It’s been such a tight crunch as far as time. We’re going to use every bit of the last two weeks to really craft a final submission. That’s why there’s a hesitancy to put anything out now because I want to make sure its correct,” said Ossenfort.

While I trust that more information is forthcoming, the fact still remains that many local municipalities have already passed resolutions in support of the overall plan. The Amsterdam Common Council passed resolutions last week in support of the plan and additional resolutions specifically supporting the shared document system and the county-wide assessment system.

Each resolution cited the goal of reducing costs and taxes. However, unless our aldermen and mayor have access to information that has not yet been publicly released, it seems to me they are operating based on blind faith rather than empirical evidence as to whether these plans will actually accomplish those goals.

The idea that consolidation and shared services are the magic solution to all our tax woes is one that has been being pushed on the public for years, all the way from the former New York State comptroller and now Governor Andrew Cuomo, down to our local newspaper editorials. It’s all contributed to an atmosphere where many people think that any type of shared service by its very definition is automatically going to save us money. The problem is that is doesn’t always. We don’t know until we look at the numbers.

A perfect example of this is when Montgomery County did a study back in 2012 to find out if consolidation or shared services among the various municipalities’ highway departments would be beneficial. What the study found was the county could actually save money by de-centralizing some of its highway maintenance tasks, contracting the towns to maintain certain county roads.

Simply put, we need to make informed decisions as far as shared services and consolidation efforts rather than just jumping on an ideological bandwagon. If a clear economic case can be made for a particular plan, then let’s do it. Otherwise let’s not. Doesn’t that seem reasonable?

I hope to report soon that all the supporting details on these plans have been released. Then we can actually start having a real conversation as to whether the plans have merit or not.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.