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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Don’t hold your breath waiting for shared government services

Both Nassau and Suffolk have come up with preliminary proposals to save money by sharing services such as snow removal and pothole repair.

And unicorns spit cotton candy.

Come on.

Nassau’s legislature is slated to vote on its plan on Monday — a plan that has few details and zero estimate of how much the aforementioned shared services could save. Suffolk, meanwhile, plans to trot out its proposal — which officials say could save the county $37 million over two years — for a public hearing next month.

To be fair, Long Island’s counties, towns, cities and villages really could save money through joint purchasing agreements, or eliminating duplicate services. And there is value in the process of having representatives from different layers of government, from municipalities to school districts, gather together to find savings — which, in turn, could reduce Long Island’s onerous property tax burden.

That, in fact, was the idea behind legislation championed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that required elected officials to devise ways to share services or equipment. Should the plans result in actual savings, the effort would receive one-time matching grant from the state.

Any push from the state is welcome, but on Long Island school districts and other taxing jurisdictions have been working cooperatively to save money, via bulk purchasing and other initiatives, for more than a decade now. That included instances in which a municipality agreed to transfer responsibility for, say, a community park, from one jurisdiction to have it done at less cost by another.

As result, most of the region’s low-hanging fruit was gathered up some time ago. The proposals from Nassau and Suffolks, however, do include some new ideas — along with initiatives that could save money but never could get off the ground.

Shared services are one thing. But the only way to significantly tackle the region’s property tax burden would be to reduce, or better yet, eliminate rather than share.

The biggest cost of any municipal or school district budget is personnel — and sharing services doesn’t necessarily translate into fewer positions, or departments or duplicate layers of government.

In 2010, Cuomo championed other legislation that could have accomplished just that, with a law that made the process of consolidating school districts, fire districts or other such entities easier.

Yet, there have been few such consolidations, which, sadly, is no surprise. Multiple taxing layers, after all, mean multiple power centers; multiple positions; multiple contracts — which too often also translate into opportunities for patronage, nepotism and favoritism. Add to that, the region’s penchant for local control and the most significant opportunities for property tax relief on Long Island slip away.

Shared services?

Why not also question the size and complexity of Nassau and Suffolk county government — both of which are in financial distress? Or necessity of having villages such as Dering Harbor — the tiniest in the state, with 81 registered voters — which in a recent upheaval over allegations of nepotism, a lack of transparency and a property dispute went through three mayors in two weeks, according to a Newsday report.

Why not — gasp! — use the 2010 process to consolidate school districts, which, after all, account for the lion’s share of property tax bills. Not going to happen. Just as shared services — alas — unlikely will result in significant property tax relief.

But at least cotton candy is real.

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