CITY

Officials approve Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney’s shared services plan

Chase Guttman | Staff Photographer

Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney's shared services plan is expected to save about $5 million a year.

A controversial shared services plan mandated by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was approved Wednesday by a group of local mayors, town supervisors and school district representatives.

“We all did what we were asked to do,” said Joanie Mahoney, Onondaga County executive, who also voted. Other officials took a sharper tone. Village of Fayetteville Mayor Mark Olson said “we had no choice” in the matter.

Cuomo’s County-Wide Shared Services Initiative, announced earlier this year, forced county governments to find ways to reduce spending by consolidating overlapping services in their jurisdictions. Wednesday was the state-imposed voting deadline for mandatory savings plans.

Onondaga County’s plan was approved 35-to-1 in a vote at The Oncenter in downtown Syracuse. Only Wayne Amato, Otisco town supervisor, dissented. Some Shared Services Panel representatives, including Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, were absent. Miner is on a trip in Israel.

“This process … was rushed. That is nobody’s fault in this room. That was the Legislature and the governor,” Olson said.

The plan, proposed by Mahoney, is expected to save an estimated $5 million each year. The state will match those savings, if towns and villages follow through with the plan, Mahoney said.

Most of the plan’s $5 million in savings will come from an agreement between the Syracuse City School District, city of Syracuse and Onondaga County to buy supplemental Medicare benefits for area retirees, Mahoney said.

That agreement is projected to save at least $2.2 million in 2018, but could create savings as high as $4.4 million, according to the plan. Other cost-saving measures in the plan include new municipal agreements between suburban villages and towns to share code enforcement operations.

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Daily Orange File Photo

In a press conference after the vote, the county executive said the plan will also establish a Greater Syracuse Shared Services Council.

“(The council will have) the benefits of a consolidated government, because it puts the buying power together inside that entity, but also addresses the concern people have, the desire to keep certain identities,” Mahoney said.

Government consolidation is a hot-button issue in Syracuse. A report compiled by Consensus, a citizens group, estimated between $8.7 million and $22.9 million could be saved a year by consolidating Syracuse and Onondaga County governments into one legislative body.

Consensus members pushed city and county officials to hold a referendum on a government merger this November. Cornelius Murphy, a Consensus co-chair, recently told The Daily Orange a referendum will not be held this year, though, citing time constraints.

Mahoney’s shared services plan includes aspects of Consensus’ recommendations.

“When this community talks about Consensus, it’s been ‘A or B,’” Mahoney said. “And this, version C, is a hybrid that is a lot closer to satisfying.”

The municipalities involved in the shared services plan’s various initiatives must now seek local approval before proceeding in the application process. Some county and city services could start to be consolidated as soon as 2018, though.

At a public hearing on Monday, residents criticized the panel for what they called an undemocratic approval process and a lack of transparency. Mahoney, though, said she thinks the process was rewarding.

“Once people see the success here, and then the checks from the state next year to match the savings, there’ll be a little more incentive,” Mahoney said. “There’ll be a little more conversation.”

Mahoney must now present the county’s plan at a public meeting before Oct. 15.

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