Local governments and schools continue to back away from consolidation proposals.


If not by closing governments and merging school districts, how can taxes be cut?

The slim majority who favored retaining the village of Greenwich in Tuesday’s voting is not the mandate Mayor David Doonan is claiming, but the defeat of yet another consolidation proposal is certainly telling.

What the 281-203 tally says is simple: Village residents like having elected representatives answering directly to them.

Still, the cost is too high. That’s why Mayor Doonan can’t delay in his promise to investigate sharing beyond the police services Greenwich already shares with nearby Cambridge.

Municipalities are grappling with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s challenge to consolidate and collaborate in order to garner the property tax rebates for their citizens included in the 2014-15 state budget. Sharing services looks to be the path forward, because taxpayers time and again reject mergers.

Earlier this month, the Empire Center for Public Policy cited a 2013 survey by Cornell University that found broad acceptance among municipalities for sharing everything from public safety to public works, economic development, recreational and administrative services. The keys, the research found, are finding cost savings and willing partners.

But it would seem, according to the Empire Center’s own research into the sources of property tax revenue, that villages don’t offer that big a bang in taking fewer of taxpayers’ bucks, anyway. What the Empire Center found is that only 2 percent of the property tax New Yorkers pay comes from villages, 4 percent from special districts like lighting districts, 5 percent from towns, 10 percent from counties, 13 percent from cities and a whopping 66 percent from schools.

So it’s in school mergers that big tax dollars could be saved. But school districts are just as reluctant to pair up as other taxing units. Look no farther than the tiny 320-student district in the village of Green Island that had been the subject of consolidation efforts until 2004, when the community rejected the idea. The New York State Association of School Business Officials said 30 districts have tried to merge since 2010 and didn’t; it cited concerns like increased property taxes and longer transportation time.

To be fair, many school districts have a head start on sharing services, thanks to the regionalBoards of Cooperative Educational Services that offer back-of-the-house administration like transportation, financial planning and oversight, as well as instructional services, including special education.

According to the Cornell research, local municipalities look more often to raise user fees than explore additional shared services. If saving taxpayers’ money is the goal of the state’s tax cap and rebate, it would seem that approach needs to flip.

With school out for the summer, districts need to take a hard look at what the Empire Center said is BOCES’ “untapped potential for collaboration.” There are savings to be found, and maybe even a rebate check from the governor.

© 2014 Albany Times Union

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