By Gwen Chamberlain

The Chronicle-Express

A panel of elected officials from towns and villages and the superintendents from Penn Yan and Dundee Central Schools held its first of three required hearings May 30 to hear ideas from the public for strategies to reduce local property taxes through shared services.

The panel is chaired by Yates County Administrator Robert Lawton, who explained the group has established committees to look into two potential areas for savings: local courts and forming an insurance consortium.

Lawton told the eight people in attendance that the committee is interested in thoughtful proposals for the county, towns, villages and school districts to work together to share services and reduce costs.

Ideas that were voiced by the public included information technology, human resources, purchasing, justice courts, planning, highways and code enforcement.

Lawton noted there are areas where local governments are already working together, formally and informally, to achieve savings and efficiencies.

The Shared Services Panel plan is part of the state’s 2017-18 budget plan that calls for similar committees in every county.

In his April memo to towns, Gerald Geist, executive director of the Association of Towns, criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan, saying one person (the governor) “should not be dictating public policy at all, let alone through the budgetary process. While the budget has been adopted, this legislative session is far from over. The Association of Towns will continue to advocate for real, meaningful relief in Albany.”

According to information from the New York State Association of Towns, after holding at least three public hearings and consulting with the panel members, Lawton will be responsible for developing a plan to reduce property taxes by eliminating duplicative services, sharing services, or reducing back-office administrative overhead costs. The tax savings must be new and recurring, and the plan must be submitted to the county legislature by Aug. 1 for recommendations. After revisions based on those recommendations and final approval by the panel, the plan must be submitted to the state Division of Budget by Sept. 15 and presented to the public by Oct. 15.

“If the plan fails, the process has to be repeated in 2018, and a report must be developed outlining how each panel member voted, and with explanations why,” writes Geist in his memo.

The Campbell Public Affairs Institute of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University has prepared a guide to Shared Government Services for Citizens and Public Officials. A copy can be downloaded at www.maxwell.syr.edu.

Lawton plans to schedule the next hearings in July.