TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — A panel examining ways Tompkins County can share services and lower property taxes has endorsed a draft plan.

A Shared Services Panel made up of town and village leaders in Tompkins County has been examining ways to consolidate and share services within the county to comply with a statewide initiative. The panel is chaired by Tompkins County Administrator Joe Mareane.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the Countywide Shared Services Property Tax Savings Plan as part of his 2018 budget that would require local governments to find ways to consolidate and cut costs. The effort is meant to reduce local property taxes.

Related: Tompkins official disagrees with Gov. Cuomo’s call for ‘efficiency plan’

Members of the panel have failed to identify any “low-hanging fruit” that would provide sweeping property tax savings, a county news release said Wednesday. Instead, the panel has recommended several smaller shared service proposals. Those include:

  • Creation of a Tompkins County Council of Governments Training Academy as a vehicle to provide affordable, high quality training to all local governments within the County.  Operated by Tompkins Cortland Community College, the Academy would offer a curriculum of training desired by, and beneficial to, all local governments regardless of size.
  •  Creation and maintenance of a Service Modernization Plan by the County for use by all municipalities, to facilitate through software automation of a number of routine paper-intensive tasks currently done by hand.
  • Creation and management of a purchasing pool to facilitate lowest-cost acquisition of contemporary financial software for municipalities that desire it.
  • Acquisition and operation by Tompkins County of a countywide mass notification system available to all municipalities in the County.
  • Creation and management of a purchasing pool to facilitate conversion of street lights to high-efficiency LED fixtures for municipalities interested.
  • Expansion of the Greater Tompkins County Municipal Health Insurance Consortium in 2018.  The plan maintains that re-constituting the Consortium into virtually a new organization to add additional members justifies its inclusion in Tompkins’ plan, as well as those of new member governments.

The county’s Shared Services Plan has also identified some other larger possibilities for review and analysis that are beyond the deadlines set by the state. For example, the county will examine centralized back-office administrative services like payroll, purchasing, accounts payable, tax collection and information technology support. Such services could be provided to interested municipalities, either through a centralized unit hosted by Tompkins County or through TST BOCES.

The panel is also considering centralizing the code enforcement function, which would be a “collaborative approach to optimize capacity of the Cayuga Heights and City of Ithaca Wastewater Treatment plant” as well as centralized fleet maintenance, the county said in a news release. The panel is also exploring a centralized approach to meet increased stormwater management requirements.  

There is no estimate yet of  how much these proposals could save the county. However, Mareane will refine the draft and calculate an estimated annual savings amount before the second public hearing on the proposed plan July 19. The community is still welcome to contribute input.

Any plan Tompkins County creates must be approved by local voters in November. If voters do not approve the plan, counties must re-try the following year.

The second of three public hearings will take place at 5:30 p.m. July 19 at Tompkins County Legislature Chambers, located in the Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building, 121 E. Court St., Ithaca.

The plan must be sent to Tompkins County Legislature for review by Aug. 1. The final plan must be sent to the state by Sept. 15.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.