Governor’s proposal offers incentive

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is challenging counties, cities, towns and villages to seek consolidation by offering them an incentive.

By participating in the Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, municipalities have the opportunity to receive a $20 million reward for coming up with a plan that would result in the greatest permanent reduction in property taxes, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

“We’ve made tremendous progress over the past five years to make New York more affordable, and this year we are going to keep that momentum going from the ground up,” Cuomo said in the release.

Under the program, municipalities would work together to create consolidation plans that would reduce property taxes.

Fulton County Board of Supervisors Administrative Officer Jon Stead said, “Until you know the rules, it’s hard to know if it’s worth getting into the game or not. We still have not found out actually how the funds [would be] distributed.”

Stead said some consolidation ideas have not been popular. In past years, public referendums for combining assessing services have been defeated.

“In the local government levels, there isn’t a ton of talk about it. It’s not very expansive in areas. People are used to smaller governments closer to the voter,” Stead said.

The governor’s proposal would be the largest direct incentive ever offered for communities to work together to share services, cut costs and lower property taxes. The program would be part of $70 million in this year’s budget to push for local government consolidations, reorganizations and efficiencies that result in the taxpayer savings, according to the news release.

The governor’s proposals will be considered by the state Legislature.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said Gloversville and Johnstown may be able to consolidate some services.

“I would certainly be open to [consolidation]. It’s a win-win for both municipalities. It doesn’t make sense to have more government,” King said.

“A regional transit system. I would love to see the county turn over and do that,” King said.

“We need to start with the two cities,” he said.

He said plans to talk to the council about the governor’s proposal.

Johnstown Mayor Michael Julius said in reference to consolidation between the two cities, “It’s going to be a difficult political thing to do.”

He said Johnstown and Gloversville already have mutual-aid fire departments and their public works departments share equipment.

“There are some low-hanging fruit ideas that are easy ways to get involved,” Johnstown Town Supervisor Jack Wilson said.

Two of his examples are a regional animal shelter and shared transit authority. Having a full-time animal control officer working among municipalities could save money, he said.

“This competition will help local governments find innovative ways to reduce costs and lower taxes for their constituents, which will make it cheaper to live, work and thrive in their communities. This is about building a stronger, more prosperous New York over the long haul, and I am eager to help local partners across the state move forward,” Cuomo said in the news release.

County Executive Matt Ossenfort said, “I’m interested to see if it’s in the final budget of the Legislature.”

The release stated New York local property taxes have been among the highest in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, property taxes grew more than double the rate of inflation.

“It’s not a bad idea and can show reductions. It’s a tough road to travel. There are realistic challenges to face in trying to get there. Consolidation is great. I want to see more details to the plan and uphill battle. Small, local government is a source of identity. Before we embark, I certainly want to get some more details before we make any decisions,” Ossenfort said.

Proposal for

high-needs schools

The governor is also proposing to spend $100 million to support the transformation of failing schools.

Issues of poverty would be addressed with communities working together to ensure students are safe, healthy and ready to learn, according to the governor’s office.

The money would provide students with early opportunities to build a positive future and to break the trend of higher crime rates, according to the governor’s proposal.

Some local schools could receive some of the money.

Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Pat Michel gave these estimates under the proposed program:

Gloversville, $257,000.

Johnstown, 98,000.

Amsterdam, 365,000.

Canajoharie, $78,000.

Fort Plain, $86,000.

Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville, $87,000.

Michel said, “If these funds are passed, they cannot be used to supplement anything we are already doing.”

The money could be used for purposes such as providing dentists or social workers in a school district, he said.

“I think it’s a great idea and will be good for our neediest children,” Michel said.

Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo said of the funding, “We would use it for programs that could benefit the kids.”

Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Superintendent David Halloran said his district could look into hiring psychologists and offering remediation services.

“We welcome the funding,” he said.

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