Twenty-nine Monroe county towns and villages and the city of Rochester have plans to consolidate some services with the goal of saving tax dollars. The joint effort is a requirement in this year's state budget.
A panel of representatives from municipalities across Monroe County has unanimously approved a series of 40 shared service agreements which they say are expected to add up to more than $7.2 million in annual savings.
But that figure is open to interpretation. Some of the programs under the plan are already renewed annually, such as the municipal agreements between each town and Monroe County for the maintenance of county roads. It has an estimated yearly savings of $2.7 million.
"I'm really not sure how the calculation has been done there because we're talking about improving the level of cooperation around taking care of roads,” said Kent Gardner, chief economist at the Center for Governmental Research. “It seems to me that's already been happening. I'm not sure there's $2.7 million in savings to be had there."
In general, Monroe County is a model for other communities when it comes to providing cost effective public service, Gardner said. He praised efforts to consolidate court services, fire dispatch services, and property assessment expertise.
Under another agreement, 8 local towns and 2 villages (Brighton, Chili, Greece, Henrietta, Ogden, Penfield, Pittsford, Webster, East Rochester, and Fairport) will be participating next year in a medical insurance consortium that is intended to reduce insurance costs through group purchasing power. That effort is expected to save taxpayers over $1.3 million in 2018.
"I think you're going to see - certainly based on the interest that was expressed - more towns and villages participating, because this group purchasing power lowers the cost of providing health care," said Monroe County executive Cheryl Dinolfo.
When she was campaigning for office in 2015, Dinolfo vowed to dissolve Monroe County’s embattled local development corporations (LDCs), the subject of a scandal in the preceding Brooks administration.
The dissolution of four LDCs is included in the shared services plan, with a combined estimated annual savings of over $2.3 million. Gardner questions whether they belong on the list.
"Taking credit for dissolving the LDCs; reversing something we shouldn't have done in the past and then calling that a merger...I guess I question the math on that one," he said.
$7.2 million dollars in annual savings sounds significant, but when you break that down, the average homeowner would save about 1 percent on their property taxes. Gardner said even if the savings aren’t dramatic, the foundation that is put in place when local governments sit down and work out the details of sharing services can bear significant long-term dividends.
If taxpayers have an appetite for substantial savings, Gardner said they should consider something more controversial.
"If we were to do a merger across all of Monroe County of police services, we would see some fairly significant savings and I think an improvement overall in quality, but that is absolutely the third rail of consolidation. No one wants to share their police services; everybody likes to hold those dear."
Gardner said savings would also be possible through the merging volunteer fire departments.
Consolidation of services is nothing new for Monroe County, Dinolfo said, and she expects New York State to follow suit, but it bears repeating that taxpayer relief is a shared responsibility.
"The state has to look at its tax structure and the state also has to look at what they're doing to provide services at the lowest possible cost with the best results for the people here in this community."