Yates, Schuyler Counties will look at options for sharing

Gwen Chamberlain

After two public meetings with slim turn-out and minimal questions from constituents, Yates and Schuyler County officials will now decide how to use the results of a $50,000 study to establish more efficient ways to provide services through consolidation and sharing.

Officials from both counties say a merger is not an option in the short term, but the Shared Services committee will meet again with CGR (Center for Governmental Research) representatives to chart a path for implementation, says Yates County Legislative Chairman Timothy Dennis, who says there is potential for efficiencies at the executive and management level.

There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, said Dennis Fagan, adding, “We clearly did not think a merger would be effective from the beginning.”

On March 24 in Montour Falls and March 25 in Penn Yan, Joseph Stefco and Paul Bishop of CGR summarized the results of the study, and explained that, to their knowledge, while there have been other government consolidations, there has never been a merger of two counties in the entire United States.

“The ball is back in the court of the community and committee,” said Stefco, who added, “We hope we’ve given them a strong basis and analysis to move forward. Our job is to inform your decisions.” He said feedback from the community is still welcome. Comments can be directed to either Yates County administrator Sarah Purdy or Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn.

Bishop says they concluded that if Yates and Schuyler were to merge, they would realize savings of $1.45 million, but Schuyler County property taxpayers would see a 16 percent decrease in the property tax rate while Yates County property taxpayers would notice an increased tax rate of 1 percent with an overall county tax rate of $6.99 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Those figures are based on assumptions that could change, such as closing some facilities, changing how sales tax revenues are shared with other municipalities, and possible incentive aid from the state, so there’s a chance Yates County taxpayers could see no change to their tax rates.

Bishop said they found several similarities in how the counties provide services, but one of the major differences is the sharing of sales tax revenues. Schuyler County shares 20 percent of its annual sales tax revenue, capped at $2 million, with the eight towns in the county. Yates County does not share any sales tax revenue with local municipalities. In their study model CGR officials assumed the same amount — $2 million — would be shared with all 17 towns in the merged counties. It’s likely a reduction in sales tax revenues to towns could result in higher tax rates in those towns — a tax shift that isn’t factored in the study.

Removing the sales tax sharing assumption results in savings for both counties.

Bishop also noted their models did not take into consideration any possible savings for purchasing fewer large equipment pieces, such as trucks and patrol cars. Nor, did they look at the potential savings for combining jail services.

Fewer than 30 people — most legislators, local government officials, and media attended the meeting in Schuyler County, while about 40 attended the meeting in Yates County. Only one person asked a question in Schuyler County while more queries were presented in Yates.

Yates County Administrator Sarah Purdy says she was struck by the low numbers of public who attended the meetings. “It’s hard to know what that means,” she said, adding, “It (the study) didn’t generate interest, but it doesn’t mean we won’t keep working.”

Purdy points out the study assumed there would be no lay-offs to accomplish efficiencies, and she noted that the study’s scope was limited because the counties secured a $50,000 grant for the study rather than the $100,000 they applied for in 2013.

The report can be found at www.yatescounty.org.