Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Final Report Issued On Local Government Efficiency

Governor Introduces Legislation To End Special District Pay, Perks

Here we go!

The final report of the NYS Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness (yes, we know, we know) has hit the street.

It is comprehensive and far reaching, and has already spurred legislation to end salaries and perks for special district commissioners and their ilk.

The Commission's recommendations have also raised criticism from the State's AFL-CIO (which means the Commission must have done something right!).

Here are the highlights of the Commission's Report:

Regional Services
􀂃 Centralize certain services at the county level: assessing, tax collection, emergency dispatch,
civil service commissions, vital records
􀂃 Provide flexibility for counties to share jail facilities and manage jail populations
􀂃 Expand local governments’ ability to share services
􀂃 Encourage justice court consolidation
􀂃 Consolidate IDAs at the county or regional level
􀂃 Enable multiple counties to share functions like weights & measures and health directors
􀂃 Allow renegotiation of collective bargaining agreements when consolidations occur

Modern Municipal Structures
􀂃 Require town-wide approval for new villages and local reconsideration of small villages
􀂃 Ease procedures for consolidation, citizen petitions, and coterminous town-villages
􀂃 Require local consideration of county-level management for fire protection
􀂃 End compensation for special district commissioners, turn over management of sanitation
districts to towns, and require local reconsideration of all commissioner-run districts
􀂃 Allow local governments to make property tax sharing agreements
􀂃 Strengthen home rule by prohibiting the judicial doctrine of “implied preemption”
􀂃 Examine reclassifying some cities, towns and villages, and reconsider powers for each class

School District Restructuring
􀂃 Empower the Commissioner of Education to order consolidation
􀂃 Set up local schools restructuring committees to examine service sharing and consolidation
􀂃 Authorize regional collective bargaining contracts for new hires (phased in at local option)
􀂃 Facilitate consolidation of back office services and regional high schools

Informed & Active Voters
􀂃 Hold all local elections on November or May dates
􀂃 Reduce number of elective offices by converting certain positions to appointive
􀂃 Provide better information for voters
􀂃 Improve local financial data for benchmarking

Aid & Incentives
􀂃 Local Government Efficiency Grants and 21st Century Demonstration Projects
􀂃 Increase aid for efficient assessing using modern professional standards
􀂃 Encourage regional solutions, cooperative services and consolidation

Addressing Cost Drivers
􀂃 Require minimum employee contributions for health insurance
􀂃 Ease municipal cooperative health plan rules
􀂃 Review public employee pension benefit options (Tier 5)
􀂃 Reform Wicks and other procurement rules

Sustaining Local Efficiency
􀂃 Maintain a long-term focus on local efficiency at the state level, using existing state agency
resources organized through a Center for Local Government Efficiency that will support local
initiatives, promote cost-savings and follow through on Commission recommendations

Our take? "If only."

If only the Governor and our State Legislature (in essence, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) follow through with enabling legislation.

If only county and town government would step up to the plate and do their part to adopt and implement the Commission's recommendations.

If only local government -- and we necessarily include school districts here -- would take the initiative to think and act regionally, consolidating, cost-saving, commited to the constituents they serve, and to those they tax.

If only New Yorkers would demand of their elected officials that the strong and compelling words of the Commission are worthy of the actions necessary to turn rhetoric into reality.

If only it was as simple as issuing a report, no matter how well intentioned, thought out, and forward-looking.

The Commission is to be thanked for its hard work and extraordinary effort, applauded for taking a long, hard look at the manner in which local government functions (and malfunctions), and heeded in its many recommendations, many of which would not only make local government operations -- including the essentials of fire service, water delivery, education, and sanitation -- not only more efficient, but quantifiably less costly (read as, "less taxing").

And now for the difficult task of creating that efficient, competitive, 21st century, local government the Commission envisions.

Let's hope we're not sitting here a year from today, tax bill in hand, scratching our heads, asking, "How did that work out for you?"
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Click HERE to read the Commission's Report in its entirety.
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Guv wants to nix perks for special districts

Gov. David A. Paterson is proposing legislation Wednesday to eliminate pay and perks for special district commissioners and put town boards in charge of sanitation districts.

Those are among the recommendations he has already accepted from the state Commission on Local Government Efficiency and Competitiveness, which delivered its final report to him Wednesday.

"What has happened over the years is that they have become patronage mills," Paterson said of special districts. Paterson's proposal also would make it easier for municipalities to form a cooperative health plan and highway shared services agreements, allow multiple counties to share a single public health director and board of health, and make it easier for citizens to petition for municipal consolidations and dissolutions.

"We recognize that this [streamlining government] has been thought about before and that this has been tried before, but we are in an era that may be unparalleled," Paterson said. With property taxes rising 53 percent over the past six years, he said, "New Yorkers are voting with their feet."

The commission report also recommends giving New York's state education commissioner the legal power to order school district consolidations and restructuring.

It calls for consolidating a variety of government functions at the county or regional level: industrial development agencies; property tax assessment and tax collection; emergency dispatch; as well as civil service commissions and vital records.

The report also recommends requiring minimum employee contributions for health insurance.

It would require town wide approval of all new villages and would require local consideration of countywide management for fire protection services. Paterson said he plans to take its other recommendations under review over the next six weeks.

The state AFL-CIO issued a statement shortly after the release of the report bashing its cost-saving recommendations as "troubling" and said they would "further hasten this state's economic downturn."

Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.

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