Putnam Will Join Shared Services Initiative

County Executive declined in 2017, but towns objected

By Holly Crocco

After taking a pass in 2017, Putnam County will participate in an initiative by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that promises state funding to municipalities that share resources.

As part of the state budget a year ago, Cuomo encouraged counties to participate in a Shared Services Initiative, vowing that whatever money they saved would be matched with state funds. Many counties, including Dutchess, embraced the idea, but Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell balked.

In September, after she said that the county — and its towns — had decided not to submit a plan to the governor, the town supervisors objected.

In a letter, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea and his counterparts in Carmel, Kent, Patterson, Southeast and Putnam Valley claimed “no meaningful attempt has ever been made to meet with the supervisors to discuss ways that services might be shared or consolidated. In order to meet the requirements of the Shared Services Initiative, the supervisors continue to meet to discuss how we can work together to lower the tax burden on our residents.”

According to Odell, about a third of New York counties did not submit a plan. This year, however, she said Putnam will prepare one.

“It’s a shame that we can’t submit what we’re already doing and what we’ve already done,” she said.

One initiative the county has been trying to get off the ground is electronic court appearances, which officials say would cut down the number of police transports of inmates to and from court. The savings could be as much as $200,000 annually, by one estimate, depending on the number of defendants.

According to Odell, equipment for three town courts — in Carmel, Patterson and Southeast — has been purchased and installed.

Another discussion has been focused on local tax assessors; Odell has proposed a single department to serve everyone. She also would like to see a wash bay at the county transportation department for use by municipal fleets, which she said would extend the life of vehicles by 10 to 20 percent by slowing corrosion.

Digital records management also could make consolidation of services easier. Odell said Putnam received grants of nearly $300,000 for software and scanning so that the county, Carmel, Philipstown, Cold Spring and Nelsonville can share documents. Another grant will fund document sharing with Putnam Valley.

Odell said her office has passed its proposals to the Legislature’s Committee on Fiscal Vision and Accountability but that Putnam needs town approval.

“We have to take our direction from the towns,” she said, noting that some supervisors, for example, don’t want to consolidate tax assessment.

In addition, Odell noted that intermunicipal agreements already exist between the county and towns and villages. This includes electrical inspection services provided to municipalities by the Consumer Affairs Department, salt storage and shared equipment by the Highway Department, real property/tax services, use of the Fire Training Center, detention of suspects by the Sheriff’s Department and email services provided by the Information Technology Department.

In addition, the Board of Elections provides voting machines, privacy booths and other equipment to school districts for their annual budget votes and referendums, she explained, and the county provides special patrol officers and school resources officers, at a cost.

“The governor’s thing is kind of unrealistic because he wants you to put down a plan, but you borrow equipment as needed, as a crisis hits,” said Kent Highway Superintendent Richard Othmer Jr. during the Jan. 17 Physical Services Committee meeting. “All the highway superintendents in all the towns, we all work well together.”