AUBURN — The Cayuga County Shared Services Panel on Friday unveiled the first draft of its state-required plan detailing potential inter-municipal projects that could generate tax savings for the county and its towns and villages.
After months of meetings, the panel, made up of the supervisors and mayors from the area's towns and villages alongside a project management team of county staff, identified eight major projects that could be eligible for state reimbursements equivalent to the amount of savings created.
The projects are:
- Joint purchase of materials, parts and services
- Coordinated equipment database and replacement schedule
- Expanding Cayuga County Health Care Consortium
- Participating in the Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA)
- Shared property tax assessment services
- Shared justice courts and court space
- City of Auburn and Cayuga County shared sports and recreation complex
- City of Auburn and Cayuga County shared public safety complex
Jointly purchasing materials, parts and services for public works and highway departments would allow for participating municipalities to save money by sheer volume of purchasing, according to project team member and County Planning Director Steven Lynch.
A coordinated equipment database and replacement schedule would help municipalities coordinate purchasing decisions on specialized equipment.
With health care, the county is looking to see if the state would allow the current consortium, which covers county and city of Auburn employees, to include town and village employees for potential savings and benefits.
Union Springs Village Attorney Chad Hayden asked why municipalities couldn't join the Greater Tompkins County Municipal Health Insurance Consortium which already allows that.
Project team member and County Budget Director Lynn Marinelli said her office was requesting more data from municipalities to better understand the different rates they were paying. Additionally, her office had reached out to the Tompkins consortium to see if their rates would in fact be lower, as previously that had not been the case.
At a previous panel hearing, County Administrator J. Justin Woods said if some municipalities joined that consortium, any savings realized could still be eligible for state reimbursement.
Many municipalities in the county already work with energy aggregator MEGA, but the plan suggests the combined buying power of even more towns would result in further savings on gas and electric purchasing.
Prior to the panel meetings, the Villages of Moravia and Weedsport had already been discussing shared municipal spaces with their towns, Moravia and Brutus, respectively, and the plan could include those plans for potential savings. The Towns of Scipio and Venice are also exploring shared facilities already.
The final two projects are for a $3 million athletic facility shared by Cayuga Community College and the Auburn Doubledays and a shared public safety complex for the city of Auburn and Cayuga County. Woods said they were working with the New York Department of State for how to structure those projects for inclusion, and had received positive feedback.
With projects like joint purchasing, as well as shared assessment services, there would be a potential cost for the county to be able to coordinate and administer those efforts.
"It's not as if we could snap our fingers and just make that happen," Lynch said.
However, Woods said that the anticipated savings would likely outweigh those expenses, and would also provide additional benefits for both the municipalities and their constituents.
With tax assessment, for example, if enough municipalities expressed interest the county could potentially hire multiple assessors and contract with the towns and villages. With multiple assessors, the positions could specialize, meaning an assessor specializing in, say, data acquisition, could complete three times as much of that type of work as an assessor performing a full array of work.
Woods stressed however that the county was not looking to force any towns and villages to give up control of their assessors, or any services included in the plan.
"We're out here trying to figure out the best way to assist you," Woods said.
Financial projections for the potential savings were not yet included in the plan, according to Woods, as the management team still needs additional data from municipalities in order to make specific predictions.
Dates and locations for required public hearings were still being scheduled, but the draft plan will be presented to the Cayuga County Legislature on July 24. The plan must then be submitted to the state by Sept. 15.
Both Woods and County Legislature Chairman Patrick Mahunik, D-Auburn thanked all the panel members for their work in developing the plan, and also said he hoped to highlight in the final report how much the county's towns and villages have already been cooperating for years.