A QUESTION OF CONTROL
Head of town supervisors’ group jeers Cuomo’s shared-services proposal; Hein says it has merit
Two town supervisors in Ulster County, one of whom leads a countywide group of municipal leaders, are pushing back against a recommendation by Gov. Andrew Cuomo regarding counties sharing services with municipalities.
Cuomo, in one of his six “State of the State” speeches this week, endorsed a plan that would require county leaders to meet with local governments to identify ways to cut costs and consolidate services. Any recommendation then would have to be put to a public vote.
Town of Rochester Supervisor Carl Chipman opposes the plan.
“I think the governor should learn a little bit more about what happens at the municipal level [and] what kind of services that we actually provide and how we provide them, and then maybe they (Cuomo and his aides) would find out that we’re the most efficient way of providing services,” Chipman said Thursday. “They don’t have a clue what goes on at this level. That’s the problem.”
Chipman, a Republican who also serves as president of the Ulster County Supervisors and Mayors Association, said Cuomo’s proposal appears to be an effort to deny the residents of municipalities a say over how local money is spent.
“My gut feeling is that he is trying to get rid of municipalities,” Chipman said of Democrat Cuomo. “‘Shared services’
is a code word for ‘let’s get rid of municipalities and home rule.’”
Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley, a Republican, said Cuomo’s proposal is nothing new.
“He’s been pushing for consolidation and shared services for four years now, and they’ve yet to come up with anything that works,” Quigley said.
Chipman said discussions
about shared services cannot be dominated by the county.
“I’m willing to share services on numerous items, but it’s got to be as equal partners with the county,” he said.
In Ulster County, some town supervisors have taken issue with criticism from the County Executive’s Office about municipal budgets getting larger despite the county taking over $20 million worth of welfare and election costs.
“We have other expenses that have gone up ... [more] than the costs that were
saved through the efficiencies generated by the county takeover” of welfare and election expenses, Quigley said.
Chipman said it was “ridiculous” for county officials to expect town budgets to be reduced proportionately to the cost savings.
“Has anybody ever spoken about capital projects and how we have infrastructure that desperately needs to be maintained and replaced and we’re not getting any help for that and it’s not exempt under the [state] tax cap at all?” Chipman said.
County Executive Michael Hein on Thursday stood by his past contentions that town budgets have grown too much since the county took over the welfare and election costs.
“With the $20 million worth of relief we provided to the towns and the city of Kingston, do you think any property taxes have gone down?” Hein said.
Hein, a Democrat, said Cuomo’s proposal regarding shared services cannot be adequately discussed until the specifics are made public. Still, he said, efforts
by Ulster County to develop shared-services plans should be used a template for the rest of the state.
“We have rethought how county government services are delivered and reinvented every step of the way,” he said. “That process has resulted in some shared services and a great deal of restructuring within county government. The bottom line is the tax levy, the amount that we actually collect from the people of Ulster County, is less today than it was in 2010, in the first budget that I wrote as county executive.”
Hein said Cuomo’s proposal would give residents control over shared-services plans.
“He would like to see towns and counties ... work closely together to identify packages to bring to the voters so that the people can actually make the decision,” the executive said. “So it isn’t a matter of having a stronger or weaker seat at the table. It’s a matter of being able to bring a real package of change that lowers property taxes across the board.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Wednesday at SUNY Albany, delivering one of his six ‘State of the State’ messages.