Remember the panels that Gov. Andrew Cuomo demanded every county in the state convene as a means of finding savings through efficiencies and shared services? The program was pretty complex and the timeline for participating was so short that Cayuga County ended up being one of 28 counties to put off doing it for a year.
This week, Cuomo's office said that the panels should become permanent fixtures — with "state funding for local government performance aid" becoming conditional on participation.
We continue to view the panels as little more than busy work aimed at letting the governor get credit for things most municipalities already do. Now, with only about half of counties having completed one of these plans so far, it seems rather premature to call it a success and say it should be permanent.
Cuomo's office said that 34 counties submitted nearly 400 projects last year that resulted in more than $200 million in savings. But that savings claim is more than a little suspect, since these plans were submitted in just the past few months and it's far too early to know if any of the projections are going to be accurate.
The two-year rollout wasn't a bad idea, and we expect Cayuga County to benefit in 2018, once officials have had time to get together on a plan. Afterward, everybody should take a step back so the effectiveness of this program can be thoroughly evaluated before it gets brought back to the table for a second round.
Based on a total lack of proven results at this point, it's absurd for Cuomo to call for tying state aid to municipalities to the continuation of this experiment.
And we question just what kind of savings can continue to be realized if this exercise becomes required on a "permanent" basis. After two or three years of finding efficiencies and consolidating services, any realistic options for meaningful savings will already have been been uncovered, so why should the state be forcing local officials to go through this tedious process year after year?
Yes, consolidation should be encouraged, but the state must not hold local aid hostage in return for unrealistic demands. The Legislature should take a pass on this proposal and the governor should focus more on what the state can do to reduce mandated spending for towns and villages rather than force them to jump through more hoops.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.