For all the talk of government consolidation and sharing services, we haven’t seen much of them in the Lower Hudson Valley.
Not much has happened since then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo first pushed measures in 2009 to encourage mergers, and certainly not enough to relieve Westchester County of the indignity of having among the highest property taxes in the country.
So when County Executive Rob Astorino on Thursday announced that Westchester and Yonkers will share a number of back-office-type programs -- Human Rights Commission, Geographic Information Systems and an Employee Assistance Program -- it showed that commonsense changes, even small ones, can still be made in slow-to-change bureaucracies.
The groundwork was set years ago, and under this agreement, the city will cover 20 percent, or $25,000, of the county's Human Rights commissioner's salary in exchange for working with the city's commission: The savings are estimated at $100,000.
For Geographic Information Systems, which maps the county’s infrastructure online, the city won’t have to hire anyone to develop a technology that already exists, saving $50,000. The Employee Assistance Program, which is already provided through the county to 30 other municipalities, means Yonkers can tap into an existing program and won’t have to duplicate efforts.
To be clear, the $150,000 in savings is a drop in the bucket when you consider Yonkers’ massive $89-million deficit, and it won’t lower annual property tax burdens in this county that, on average, hover around $10,000 per taxpayer. For seismic shifts on those fronts, local governments will have to get real about sharing big-ticket items and consolidating some of the hundreds of layers of local government -- towns, villages, schools, police departments and water districts.
New York State has roughly 10,500 government entities. In Westchester there are 46 school districts, 42 police departments, 17 towns, 22 villages and six cities. Clearly, there is duplication and an untapped opportunity to share, if not consolidate.
This latest announcement is good news and shows some level of cooperation. We need more of this thinking, and on a much larger scale.