Whether you call it cooperation, consolidation or collaboration, the concept of municipalities engaging in shared services agreements likely will become a hot ticket item as time goes on.
Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said he believes New York State leaders increasingly will look favorably upon counties, cities, towns and villages that pool their resources toward a goal of more efficient government.
And in this period of COVID-19 -- the cause of game-changing reductions in revenues, Gsell agrees that sharing services are more crucial than ever.
“Realistically, yes, I think they are -- at least to have that kind of notification back to the state that here are the things we’re considering,” he said, following the submission of the county’s 2019 shared services plan to the Genesee County Legislature for possible adoption this week.
Currently, Genesee County is contemplating shared services opportunities in the areas of criminal justice/law enforcement, water systems, weights and measures, procurement and real property assessment with its partner municipalities as well as neighboring counties.
After the county held three public hearings as required by law, its Ways & Means Committee voted in favor of the plan, which, upon approval, would be forwarded to the Department of State, Genesee Association of Municipalities and eight local school districts.
The resolution is on the agenda of the full legislature's meeting this Wednesday.
Gsell said this is the county’s second shared services proposal in accordance with the state’s “soft mandate” (the first was submitted in 2018).
The new plan prioritizes two projects: county assistance with the City of Batavia’s upgraded water system and a joint Genesee/Orleans county jail to replace the current jail on West Main Street.
He said that he sees these two ventures as prime candidates for state funding under the shared services program – as long as funding continues to be made available.
“By helping the City improve its water system – which it already is addressing in the areas of lead services and new water meters -- it can revert to retail,” Gsell said. “With that in place, we can help make sure that all the rates across the county are uniform.”
As far as building a new jail, Gsell said Genesee County has a designed facility (near County Building 2 on West Main Street Road) ready to go out to bid, but is on a temporary pause due to the coronavirus.
“One of us builds it, the other one hosts their inmates and we have a longstanding funding agreement to do that,” he said.
Gsell said the state needs to get on board to make it work.
“The state, itself, needs to be engaged and involved and make the changes to state statute,” he said. “So, we’ll put that on their radar screen.”
He said officials from both counties have talked to people in the governor’s office in Albany about moving the shared services agreement forward.
“We’ve told them that we’re thinking about this (and said) are you people going to be more than just standing on the sidelines or will you be progressive with us, when and if it gets put into a state budget?” he said.
Gsell said that the jail project was in the governor’s budget at one point but was left out when the 2020-21 final state budget was adopted.
“But that doesn’t mean it is a dead issue … it’s something that our two counties think is at least something to do more than just kick the tires on,” he said.
He added that this type of a “significant first-of-its-kind in the State of New York venture might also attract some funding to actually make it happen.”
The shared services plan also includes school resource officers.
At the present time, the county supports a police presence at Alexander, Byron-Bergen, Pavilion, Pembroke, Oakfield-Alabama and Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (Board of Cooperative Educational Services -- BOCES). Le Roy and Batavia school districts have SRO (School Resource Officer) agreements outside of the scope of the county.
“With SROs, some of the schools may not have a physical presence the way it has been in the past, so where does the SRO go in the future?” he asked. “We believe that it is pretty vital in the day-to-day function of a school system, but it may not be afforded. As schools continue to utilize SROs, it could be done as part of the state’s shared services program.”