Municipal leaders from across Westchester County joined County Executive Robert P. Astorino on September 15 to sign off on a shared services plan that will save taxpayers nearly $6 million over the next few years.
“Sharing services is a means of controlling costs and saving taxpayers their hard-earned money,” said Astorino. “It’s critical that we continue to work together to find more efficiencies and savings that can be passed on to taxpayers. The county is here to help its local partners deliver essential services in the most cost-effective ways possible.”
In recent years, Astorino has put in place shared services initiatives totaling $55 million a year. In addition, he has lowered the tax levy by 2 percent since 2010, which has kept an estimated $400 million in the pockets of taxpayers.
In approving the shared services plan in a bi-partisan vote of 29-0, which comes after several forums, three public hearings and hundreds of hours of input, leaders backed 12 ways – mostly information technology initiatives – to save money by eliminating redundancies and increasing efficiencies in government. Initiatives agreed to include having the county assist some localities with IT management, document scanning and storage and technology and software purchasing, among others, that can reduce costs on a local level.
The Shared Service Forums were chaired by Astorino and included representatives from nearly all of Westchester County’s municipalities who discussed ways that local governments can continue to cut costs, notably through sharing services with the county and lobbying the state to stop passing down its costs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2018 state budget mandates that 57 counties throughout New York State (New York City is excluded) establish a Shared Services Panel to come up with ways for governments to share and coordinate services. The panels, however, did not include school districts that typically make up roughly 60 percent of a property owner’s property taxes.
Westchester County’s 2018 plan adds to the county’s ongoing efforts to lower the cost of government. The county has been sharing services with localities for years by consolidating local police departments with the county, providing specialized police units to cities and towns, and utilizing the county’s planning and land use experts to develop a master plan for the Village of Rye Brook, to name a few.
Westchester County in 2013 created its Shared Services Handbook, which is a guide for local communities on how the county can help lower the costs for local governments.
“Sharing services is not a new concept in Westchester County,” said Astorino. “We’re always looking for ways to save money and operate more efficiently. We will continue to scrutinize every dollar spent and find savings wherever we can.”
Astorino noted that significant challenges are federal and state mandates totaling $1.35 billion that are forced on the county and account for 75 cents out of every dollar spent in the county’s 2017 $1.8 billion budget. The largest state mandate, for example, is Medicaid and costs Westchester taxpayers $210 million. New York is one of the few states that forces counties to pay part of that bill. Other mandates include pensions, child welfare, probation, public assistance and special education, among others.
The forum was the last of a series of required meetings that the Shared Services Panel in Westchester conducted before sending their plan onto the state budget director for review. The county’s work is ongoing, Astorino noted.
“The best way to reduce taxes is by growing the economy, creating jobs, controlling costs and eliminating burdensome mandates.” Astorino said. “This plan is a small part of a much broader strategy aimed at protecting taxpayers.”