It’s important we clear up the record

To the Editor:

The Rockefeller Institute of Government is working with Albany County and local officials to develop their state-required shared-services and taxpayer savings plan. We have enjoyed working with local communities on the plan. All have been cooperative and collegial, and the process has been informative and instructive.

One item receiving considerable attention has been the proposed consolidation of the Albany County and town of Berne departments of public works. You can read the proposal on our website at: http://www.rockinst.org/lgs/PDF/8.1.17_draft_albany_co_Shared_Services_Plan.PDF.  

The proposal has created a stir, but that’s why we’re holding public hearings and going through a process in hopes that consensus could be reached in the community. The town supervisor, highway superintendent, and concerned citizens have been engaged — working on ideas and potential solutions.

However, a recent letter in your paper headlined “I applaud and thank the supervisor and board for clarifying implementation of shared services” stated that many participating at one of our recent public meetings to discuss the plan “were led to believe by the Rockefeller Institute representative that only the supervisor’s input and vote was needed to move forward with this draft proposal” and that “many town residents in attendance left thinking this meant they would not have any say in the matter and were stuck with the supervisor’s choice.” The author did note it was unintentional.

Actually, it’s important we clear up the record. At the public meeting, we at the Rockefeller Institute of Government were asked two distinct questions:

— 1. Is the town supervisor alone authorized to pursue the consolidation as part of final county-wide plan that must be submitted to the state? and

— 2. Could the town supervisor alone make the consolidation happen?

The answers were “Yes” and “No.”

At the meeting, we said that, under the shared-services law, the panel members (in this case the town supervisor) have the final say on what goes into the plan. However, we also said that the shared services law does not give the town supervisor unilateral power to implement any potential consolidation — that all other state and local laws, regulations, and rules apply. In this case, a local law and a referendum would likely be needed.

This was reiterated in the draft report, which states on page 34 that: “implementation of the Panel-approved shared services contained in the Plan are NOT binding on municipalities and their elected boards. All applicable legal prerequisites to the implementation of any action or component of an action contained within a final, approved Plan must be satisfied in order for that action or component of an action to properly take effect in any municipality or school district.”

But, with the many layers of approvals and authorizations, we understand how quickly it could become confused. Therefore, the final report will make the process(es) clearer.

We will continue to work with the county and other elected officials to finalize the shared-services plan and look forward hearing more from the public.  

Jim Malatras, president

Rockefeller Institute of Government

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