For years, three Hudson Valley county executives say, the counties have been finding ways to consolidate local government services, so they are miffed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shared services initiative.
Cuomo recently mandated that county officials develop plans with local governments to cut property taxes by eliminating duplicative services.
“This was a political ploy by the governor to divert attention from what is happening in the state,” Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino said this morning at a Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress forum at Pace University in Pleasantville.
The problem is schools, Astorino, Rockland County Executive Ed Day and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell agreed. School taxes account for two-thirds of the typical property tax burden, yet schools were excluded from the initiative.
“If you’re going to go whale watching, you have to go where the whales are,” Astorino said. “The schools are the whales.”
“The big numbers are in the schools,” Odell echoed.
Every county executive must convene a panel of officials from every city, village and town. They may also invite school district representatives to participate.
Odell said counties have taken the lead on shared services for years, and they have found many innovative ways to consolidate government activities.
“But there are so many state mandates,” Day said. “It’s like we’re treading water in choppy waters. Things are forced on us by the state.”
Cuomo and the state Legislature should “look in the mirror,” Astorino said, if they want to find savings and lower the property taxes.
“The way the issue was rolled out,” said Day, “was an insult to the executives of county governments.”