Berne Town Board chose to endorse consolidation study for one primary reason: fiscal responsibility

To the Editor:

The Albany County-Wide Shared Services Property Tax Savings Plan (known as the County-Wide Shared Services Initiative) has generated considerable interest, and rightly so — when completed, it may have significant impact on taxpayers in our community.

The information below describes the origin, intent, and future of immediate action in Berne.

— The Shared Services Plan is a state initiative (Chapter 59, State Laws of 2017). It mandates that every county in the state convene a Shared Services Panel to develop a savings plan to benefits its taxpayers.

— The Albany County Shared Services Panel consists of the chief executives of all cities, towns, villages, and school districts in the county. Our county panel is headed by Daniel McCoy, the county executive.

— Mr. McCoy engaged several experts in local government policy from The Rockefeller Institute of Government and The Benjamin Center at the State University of New York College at New Paltz to assist the panel with its work.

— The purpose of the Shared Services Panel was to propose ways communities could work together to save taxpayers money. Because Albany County’s municipalities vary enormously by size, budget, and taxpayer need, the suggestions the panel devised would, of necessity, be broad, overarching actions that would allow each municipality the opportunity to participate according to its specific needs.

— Areas the panel identified as potential options for savings are: Creation of a County-Wide Centralized Shared Specialty Equipment Program, Joint Purchasing of Services and Materials, Consolidation of Duplicative Functions, and Enacting a Robust Energy Efficiency Program.

— The Albany County Legislature will review the plan, and advise the county executive of any recommendations it may have. Those recommendations may be incorporated into the plan at the executive’s discretion. The final draft will then be returned to the panel for consideration.

— The Shared Services Panel must vote for or against adoption of the final plan on or before September 15. After the panel’s adoption of the final plan, each community will then move to determine exactly how it will participate.

— Berne’s Town Board recently passed a resolution allowing the county to conduct a study to determine if consolidating the public works departments of Albany County and Berne is beneficial. This was an option listed in Part C of the Shared Services Plan under Duplicative Functions. The board chose to endorse the study for one primary reason: fiscal responsibility.

— We would be remiss not to undertake this study. It will provide the Berne’s voters with fact-based information to determine if or what benefits might accrue with consolidation. Analysts will examine the workforce, the potential cost-savings, and the impact on the residents relative to both taxes and quality of service.

Could operations be streamlined to better serve our town? Would consolidation save taxpayer dollars without sacrificing service? Would joint purchasing of materials provide the best price point? The study will help provide answers to those questions.

The summer edition of Berne’s newsletter, the Courier, was mailed to all 1,400 Berne households, and described our participation in the study; the response we’ve received from that article supports our decision to participate. The study will give residents the facts they need to determine if consolidation will benefit the town and save them tax dollars.

Once completed, the study’s findings will be shared with the public, and residents will have the opportunity to review and comment on it. A referendum, giving voters the choice to consolidate or not, will be held. The final decision, then, based on the facts contained in the study, will be in the hands of the voters.

Karen Schimmer, member

Berne Town Board

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