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Suffolk County starts 'online Costco' for shared services

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced the SuffolkShare Portal will allow municipalities to share recycling services, street sweepers, road resurfacing crews, senior and youth health care, emergency management and marine equipment. (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Suffolk has opened an "online Costco" where local towns, villages and school districts can combine their buying power to cooperatively purchase equipment and services to reduce costs, County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday.

The county's SuffolkShare portal will allow municipalities to share or purchase from the private sector recycling services, street sweepers, road resurfacing crews, senior and youth health care, emergency management and marine equipment, Bellone said at a news conference in Hauppauge.

"You can think of the web portal here as an online Costco where municipalities can go to pull into their cart the services that they need that can be delivered at a lower cost or more efficiently or better for their constituents," Bellone said.

To date, 92 Suffolk County governments, including all 10 towns, 32 villages, more than 50 school, fire, library and water districts and the Eastern and Western Suffolk BOCES have signed on as partners in the virtual one-stop marketplace. More than 300 municipal employees are expected to register to use the free portal during training sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, Bellone said. 

The shared services plan was driven by legislation signed in 2017 by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that called on counties to devise plans to eliminate duplicative services, coordinate purchases and  cut back office costs to reduce property taxes. Participating municipalities will be eligible to receive matching state funds for any savings achieved through the combined efforts.

Jim Malatras, president of the Rockefeller Institute of Government, an Albany think tank, said shared services will transform how local governments operate. 

“As New York State continues to modernize municipal functions, SuffolkSHARE offers a real vision of procurement and taxpayer savings in the coming years," Malatras said.

Bellone estimated that the shared services initiative could save taxpayers as much $37 million over the next two years.

The county spends roughly $750 million a year purchasing goods and services, said Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman, who is heading the effort for Suffolk.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said the portal will save her administration time, effort and money alike as they look to piggyback on existing contracts and services used by other area governments.

"This is all completely voluntary so we can check the portal to see if we can get the best prices," Jens-Smith said. "But if not, we can always look to do our own contract. So it's a lot of flexibility. There is no requirement to do it. But as we move forward, I'm sure it's going to become more and more a useful item for each and every town."

Riverhead, she said, has been proactive in working with neighboring governments to save money. For example, last year the town was able to purchase a used truck from another East End municipality and sold a used boat to another. 

The website also allows municipalities to communicate with each other in a cyber chat room about the services they perform in-house and their respective procurement needs.

"It'll open up all sorts of new avenues for cooperation that could save taxpayer money," Bellone said.

Suffolk has already uploaded 600 county contracts and agreements, while hundreds more will soon be posted by towns, villages and local districts, Kaiman said.

The portal was built by Veratics, a veteran-owned firm based in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, through a nearly $350,000 state grant. The site will be maintained annually by the county's IT staff, officials said.

Nassau County's Shared Services panel submitted a plan to the state in 2017 to consolidate services among nearly 70 municipalities, potentially saving taxpayers $130 million. 

Almost all the savings — $128 million in the first year — would come from converting the 70-year-old sewage treatment plant in Long Beach into a pump station that would transfer raw sewage under Reynolds Channel to the county’s Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant. Other projects include Nassau sharing its roadway pavement management system with the Town of Hempstead and villages purchasing their rock salt and sand mixtures from their towns rather than from an outside contractor, officials said.

Nassau will convene its Shared Services Panel in the spring to explore the creation of a services and equipment portal similar to Suffolk, a county spokeswoman said.

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