Clinton County forging ahead on shared services plan

JOE LOTEMPLIO/STAFF PHOTOClinton County government leaders listen intently at the recent meeting on the state’s Countywide Shared Services Initiative. Counties across the state must come up with a plan to save money through collaboration by Sept. 15 as part of the new law. In the foreground from left are: Dannemora Town Supervisor William Chase, Black Brook Town Supervisor Jon Douglass and Village of Rouses Point Mayor Daniel Letourneau. In the row behind them are (from left): City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read, AuSable Town Supervisor Sandra Senecal and Village of Champlain Mayor Gregory Martin.

PLATTSBURGH — Although the time frame may be short, Clinton County government leaders are hopeful they can put together a shared services plan that will save taxpayers money.

"A lot of you are already sharing services, but some of those ideas can be modified and enhanced in keeping in spirit of this law," County Administrator Michael Zurlo said at a meeting of all county town supervisors, village mayors and City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read on Wednesday night.

The meeting kicked off the county's attempt to comply with the state's Countywide Shared Services Initiative, which became law in the recently approved 2017-18 budget.

The county has until Sept. 15 to submit a plan to the state that shows shared service ideas that will result in savings for municipalities.

STATE MATCH IN YEAR 1 

Zurlo, who is assigned by the state to administer Clinton County's plan, told leaders at the meeting that there could be a number of areas where savings can be found.

Health insurance for employees, economic development, assessment services, codes enforcement, dog control and emergency services were all ideas that can be discussed.

For those who are already sharing services, their plans can be included in the county's final submission if they are updated.

"I know all of that is happening in the background, and I encourage you to continue doing it," Zurlo said.

The state will match the savings realized by the final shared services plan in the first year.

Towns can also choose not to participate if they feel sharing a service might not be in their best interest.

THINK BROADLY

Ann Thane, director of local government services for the state and a former mayor of the City of Amsterdam, said towns must put forth a good faith effort before choosing to opt out.

They also must publicly explain to their constituents why they chose not to participate.

"I intimately know what it is like to deal with failing budgets, emergencies, storm recovery and challenges like that," Thane said.

"The job is never done, and we keep hearing the same old cry from the public: 'My taxes are too high.' It is a daunting task, but we must keep at it."

Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said ideas should be shared by several towns and not just by neighboring municipalities.

"We need to think more broadly," he said.

REAL PROPERTY REALITIES

As an example, Zurlo said there are five towns that use the county for real property services, while the rest spend a combined total of $255,000 for their own assessors.

"There could be some savings there," he said.

Beekmantown Town Supervisor Dennis Relation said that since Beekmantown opted to have the county perform their real property services last year, not only have they saved money, but they doubled the time the Real Property Office at the town is open.

"It's been a good benefit for us," he said.

Also, towns spend about $195,000 combined on dog control services, which could possibly be taken over by the Sheriff's Department, Zurlo said.

"They (Sheriff's Department) respond to a lot of those calls anyway so this could be worked out," he said.

POLICE POSSIBILITIES 

Folding the Rouses Point Police Department into the Sheriff's Department could also be an option.

Rouses Point Village Mayor Daniel Letourneau said the Village Police force includes one full-time chief and a part-time officer, but the part-time position has been vacant for the past nine months.

The village's police budget is about $147,000.

"That is about 25 percent of our whole budget," Letourneau said.

The village would consider giving the Sheriff's Department its police vehicle, computers and other equipment and let the police station be used as a satellite office.

"That would be a perfect fit for this plan," Zurlo said.

Sheriff David Favro said the ideas are worth looking into.

"I think there are some areas where we could not only save money but help provide even better services," he said.

PUBLIC HEARINGS 

Read said he believes the city and county can surely find ways to work together.

"Our offices are just about across the street from each other, and we both have a lot of the same departments," he said.

"Nothing should be off the table."

The panel of supervisors and mayors will hold meetings on June 7 and 21 and will also discuss ideas on their own over the next few months.

Three public hearings will also be held before Sept. 15, and any labor unions that may be affected by new plans will be consulted.

"We are going to continue to flush out and research ideas in an effort to make a final plan," Zurlo said.

Email Joe LoTemplio:

jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @jlotemplio

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Staff Writer at Press-Republican since November of 1985. Has covered just about all beats at the paper, including sports.Currently covers government and politics. Graduated from Plattsburgh State in 1985. Originally from Rochester, NY.

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